Surviving The Struggle: Two seniors overcome cancer, thrive at Milford High


Michael Stevenson

Senior Michael Stevenson getting his last round of chemotherapy in October 2018.

Robert Knight, Asst. Editor

Andrew Belliston
Senior Andrew Belliston at Mott Children’s hospital during one of his treatments, in January 2017.
Robert Knight
Michael Stevenson and Andrew Belliston are both in remission after battling cancer during high school. They will graduate with honors in June.

Students struggle to balance all their responsibilities on a daily basis. The pursuit of high academic achievement while juggling sports, jobs, a social life and other extra-curricular activities can be difficult.

While most students have their share of difficulties, some have it harder than others. Two graduating seniors went through the unimaginable in their lives at a young age. Both Michael Stevenson and Andrew Belliston will graduate  in June after battling cancer for a good portion of their high school experience.

Stevenson, who is one of the Editor in Chiefs of the Milford Messenger staff, was diagnosed when he was 11.

Stevenson said that he first realized something was wrong in 5th grade while playing soccer. His parents could tell something was off when he was trying to play and did not have any energy.

“I just looked like I was running in mud during spring season,” Stevenson explained. “That whole summer, I was really sick. I was really lethargic. All my friends noticed I’d be sitting down a lot not doing anything.”

In August of that year, Stevenson woke up with a terrible headache and went to the emergency room.

Stevenson recalls his thoughts being a blur.

“I remember waking up with a bad headache; I had a horrible loss of balance. I would go run to throw up in the bathroom. I would hit both sides of the door frame, fall on the floor, and throw up on the floor. I really don’t remember a lot, and pretty much, they got me into the emergency room.”

He had a CT Scan done, and then was transferred to the DMC Children’s Hospital where they did the MRI. He had surgery the next day after being diagnosed with a Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma brain tumor in the back of his head, right by the optic nerves.

“They had me on some pretty high pain killers too because my head really hurt, but it went by really fast.”

Stevenson had a brain surgery on Aug. 9th, of 2012, then 4 years later, the tumor grew back, and he had a second surgery on Nov. 6th, 2016. After that, he started chemotherapy, and went through vincristine and carboplatin chemotherapy treatments.

“I went through 56 of those. I began treatments on Jan. 4th, 2017, and ended on Oct. 26th, 2018.”

Unfortunately, Stevenson wasn’t the only MHS student to be dealing with a tumor in his head.

Senior Andrew Belliston was 15 years old and going into his sophomore year  when he was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, which means that the cancer was by his eye.

“It’s a soft tissue cancer; it grew to about a size of a lemon when they took it out,” he said.

Initially, Belliston was not too worried about the procedure.

“They thought it was a benign tumor, so I wasn’t too scared about it, but then when they took it out, and they figured out it was this really dangerous cancer that’s really aggressive,” Belliston explains.  “They told me about all this chemo I would have to do, so I was kind of nervous about it, but once I got my first chemo round I realized it was pretty serious, and it really hurt, so that really impacted me.”

Belliston received an aggressive chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and some surgical work as well.

“My chemotherapy was these three drugs that caused my hair to fall out. My radiation therapy just targeted the eye, and it didn’t really hurt that bad, but now it’s starting to cause me a lot of problems,” said Belliston, explaining that his eye can’t make tears anymore.

Belliston had about 6 months of chemotherapy, about 25 radiation treatments and 4 surgeries.”

The surgeries really impacted Stevenson as well. “I played baseball, basketball, and soccer, and I had to quit all of those for fear of getting hit in the head,” he continued. “The chemotherapy definitely hit me hard because I would go pretty much every Friday, so from Monday through Thursday I’d be a regular high school student, catching up on work, and then Friday I would be a cancer patient, get my treatment, then I’d recover Saturday and Sunday.”

Educationally, it affected Stevenson a lot ; he would always be playing catch up.

“I’d always be behind, and just when I’d finally catch up with where everyone else is at I’d miss another day, go through another treatment, and then fall back behind.

Belliston couldn’t go to school anymore because the chemo was quite aggressive. “It cut down all my blood cells and stuff, so I couldn’t go to school because it was dangerous to my health. I couldn’t really go out in public either, so that really affected my every day life. I couldn’t really do schoolwork anymore, and couldn’t really see my friends anymore which was also really challenging,” explained Belliston.

Belliston and Stevenson are both glad that they are in remission.

Stevenson had his port taken out a couple of months ago and said it was a huge relief.

“Not having the implant is definitely nice,” he said. “I feel somewhat human, and definitely looking back, it was a difficult process. It’s crazy to think I’m happy to go to school each day; once you miss 30 something days out of the year, it definitely makes you happy to be at school, and be here.”

Both Stevenson and Belliston are proud of their resiliency.

“I didn’t think that I would get through it honestly,” Belliston said. “Sometimes I didn’t see an ending, especially when my appendix burst at the end of my treatments, like 2 weeks after, and I almost died there. so I thought I didn’t really get to the end. I just like to be living honestly. I feel very good to be alive, and I feel grateful.”

Stevenson explains that those who are diagnosed with cancer are not alone.

“The biggest thing is there’s always people out there to help you if you need it, and support you, and definitely the whole Highland/Milford community came together to help me out. People offered to give me rides to treatments, and cook meals for us on the days I was getting treatments because my mom couldn’t cook because she was with me.

There is help, and there are people who can help you through the process.” Stevenson is going to Michigan State University next year to pursue a degree in electrical engineering.

Belliston is going to Utah State University for mechanical engineering. Another possible plan is to apply to medical school and try to become a doctor.

Belliston says to those affected, “I can’t say I know exactly what you’re going through, but I can just say that I’m sorry, and I know it’s horrible, and I know how much time slows down, and feels like it’s going to go on forever, but I just believe in you, and I think that you guys are some of the strongest people I know.”