Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

WMU Senior Uses the Power of Storytelling to Cope with Cancer

A senior at Western Michigan University uses her positivity and passion for storytelling to help overcome a difficult reality in her life.

During spring of 2016, Gwen De Young was diagnosed with three brain tumors, two in the front of her brain tissue and one in back. She said doctors rate the abnormality of these tumors on a scale from one to four, with four being the worst. De Young has grade two, low grade astrocytoma, something she has to live with for the rest of her life, along with seizures and moments of memory loss and vertigo, she said.

She has had treatments of chemotherapy and is currently taking medicine to control the seizures. She said the tumors caused her world to stop, putting a halt on her school studies and her passion for playing hockey.

“I felt like I had no meaning, no purpose. As weird as this is going to sound, I think cancer gave me a purpose, gave me a meaning. It gave me something (with which) to stick out and be different,” De Young said.

De Young said the tumors taught her the power of storytelling and “gave her a story” to share. As a film major, De Young, with help from WMU seniors Summer Harrison and Tommy Negel, created a documentary called “Backslashing Cancer” inspired by De Young’s love for hockey, and shared it in their class.

“I realized that this was not simply a video for a school project, but almost a tribute to Gwen’s struggle and her strength,” Harrison said.

De Young said her professor, WMU School of Communication professor Jennifer Machiorlatti, cried when she played “Backslashing Cancer” in class.

Machiorlatti said that De Young was a great leader in her nonfiction film production class and is not afraid to be herself.

“Gwen’s different. She will be very, very honest when she’s having a bad day. She feels confident and comfortable enough to be who she is in that moment,” Machiorlatti said.

De Young is currently working on a documentary on the death of a friend she met when she was 10, Nick Aitchson. Aitchson died from a car accident at age 17. De Young said she wants to make a film in honor of his death, now a decade past. She wants to promote The Aitchson Lacrosse Foundation, which Aitchson’s parents created. The foundation helps underprivileged kids afford to play for the expensive sport, that Aitchson loved.

“I wanted to show that yes this bad thing happened, but yet his parents took it and made the foundation… showing that life gets really dark but through the darkness there’s something shining through it,” De Young said.

I am a senior at Western Michigan University studying all sorts of things. Film, Video, and Media Studies Major with minors in Journalism and English: Rhetoric and Writing Studies. I can basically do it all.. You can normally find me dancing my booty off to live music, yelling at the Detroit Red Wings through the TV screen or trying to be crafty. I like to write. I like to take photographs of nature on my fancy camera. And I like to pet my cat.
Similar Reads👯‍♀️