The Long Road: 18-year-old former Gardnerville resident, cancer survivor to speak at high school graduation in Vancouver, Wash.

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The Long Road: 18-year-old former Gardnerville resident, cancer survivor to speak at high school graduation in Vancouver, Wash.

 

From left: Elaine, Karen, Don and Andrew Brockhage in Washington. Elaine graduates from high school Wednesday and will be one of two student speakers at the ceremony. - Photo courtesy of the Brockhage family
From left: Elaine, Karen, Don and Andrew Brockhage in Washington. Elaine graduates from high school Wednesday and will be one of two student speakers at the ceremony.
– Photo courtesy of the Brockhage family

by Sheila Gardner, Special to the Carson Valley Times

Photo courtesy of the Brockhage family Elaine Brockhage and Christiana Lee at the Union High School baccalaureate over the weekend.
Photo courtesy of the Brockhage family
Elaine Brockhage and Christiana Lee at the Union High School baccalaureate over the weekend.

When Elaine Brockhage accepts her diploma Wednesday at Union High School in Vancouver, Wash., she brings to a close one more chapter in a story that began when she was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 12.

Elaine, who moved from the Gardnerville Ranchos to Washington with her family just before the  beginning of her junior year, is one of two student speakers in the class of 500 seniors.
It’s a remarkable accomplishment for the 18-year-old who less than two years ago was the “new girl” at the high school.
“I auditioned and I got the part,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “I am going to talk about what I am going to take away from high school with me. I am starting to get a little bit nervous.”

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The Brockhages moved to Washington to be closer to family, and because of enhanced opportunities for health care in the northwest and more college options.
Elaine has been cancer-free since ninth grade, but she has lingering effects from the tumor, namely balance and vision challenges.
“My balance will probably never completely come back, but it’s still improving, and that’s good,” she said.
“I have double vision and I had therapy for it for awhile while we were still in Nevada. It went away, but it came back.”
She undergoes extensive physical therapy and eye therapy at a clinic in Vancouver and travels to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at Oregon Health & Science University in nearby Portland for yearly MRIs, oncology visits and survivorship clinic.
Elaine said leaving her Carson Valley friends behind was difficult, but she resolved to make her mark in Vancouver as she had at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School.
Photo courtesy of the Brockhage family
Photo courtesy of the Brockhage family
“I don’t tend to talk about the cancer too much,” she said. “When I go to the hospital, it’s hard sometimes to see all these kids who are still sick.”
Elaine’s mother, Karen Brockhage, said the hospital staff is astounded at the level of academic work Elaine has maintained.
As a senior, she studied physics, photography, English, current world issues and calculus.
“I am not the smartest kid in my class,” she said, but did earn membership in the National Honor Society.
In her speech, Elaine addresses how she had to convince teachers she was up for the workload.
In the past year, she decided to give up dance after more than 14 years because of balance issues.
“It’s just like I really couldn’t get better,” she said, “and it was hard watching other girls who were still good at it.”
She used the extra time for her studies.
CONTACT ELAINE
People are invited to send notes to Elaine Brockhage, PO Box 871072, Vancouver, Wash., 98687.

Elaine will be attending George Fox University, a small Christian school in Newberg, Ore., in the fall.
She is nervous and excited at the prospect of living away from home.
“I can still come home on weekends. It’s about an hour away,” she said. “I know there are people who go all the way to New York, but that seems like a long ways away to me.”
She is thinking about majoring in pharmacology, biochemistry or communications. Those academic seeds were planted by her teachers at Pau-Wa-Lu.
Two middle school teachers who had significant impact on her future were science teacher Danita Anderson and speech teacher Callie Campbell-Parr, Elaine said.
“I really like public speaking,” she said. “Back in Nevada, I had speech class and Ms. Campbell-Parr got me in public speaking. I was really excited to audition to be a student speaker.”
As difficult as it was to pack up and move to Washington, Karen Brockhage said the experience has been beneficial for the family. She is an occupational therapist and her husband Don is a computer programmer.
“Overall, it was a good move. It’s been really good for the kids,” she said.
Elaine’s brother Andrew, now 16, swims Union High School, and recently obtained a summer job at a camp.
“He’s really into video production,” Elaine said. “That’s what he will be doing this summer at camp.”
Andrew will be at camp for eight weeks, giving the Brockhages a taste of “empty nest syndrome” before Elaine heads off for college.
Their summer plans include a cruise to Alaska with Carson Valley friend Taylor Tingley, a 2014 DHS graduate.
The Brockhages remember all the support Elaine received beginning in 2008 when she was diagnosed with cancer. Hundreds of well-wishers visited her Caring Bridge site, and she was adopted by a class of fourth graders at Minden Elementary School who inundated her with cards, pictures and get-well messages.
“She is doing the impossible,” Karen Brockhage said. “It’s been accomplished with a lot of prayers and a lot of tears. I am just very grateful. I still have moments of grief at what she lost and just can’t do, and think it’s not fair. But then I think that Elaine is alive and smart and going to college and cancer-free. I wouldn’t wish this journey on anybody, but we got through it, and by her example, she has encouraged and helped people we’ll never know. Cancer stinks, but we can choose what we do with the things that happen to us.”
Sheila Gardner is a long-time Gardnerville resident and recently retired after three decades at The Record-Courier. While Sheila is enjoying retirement immensely, she is happy that she still has stories to tell. She can be reached at sheilagardner@netscape.com.

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