Nobody will enjoy walking across the stage, receiving a diploma, and hearing the cheers of family and friends more than McKinnon Galloway.
Two years ago, doctors told her she'd be deaf by the time she graduated. They weren't sure if she'd be able to walk.
"I'll be there, walking and able to hear everything," said McKinnon, 18, whose Hopewell High commencement will be Sunday afternoon at Bojangles' Coliseum.
"I told the doctors I'd prove them wrong."
Nothing is promised to McKinnon, who suffers from a rare disorder called "neurofibromatosis 2," or NF2. The condition causes tumors to grow at the end of nerves, and Galloway has two tumors in her brain and another on her spine.
She said she might lose her hearing before she graduates from the University of South Carolina, where she is headed with a 4.2 GPA and several academic awards.
"I appreciate everything so much more now," she said. "And I place a lot more value in the time I have."
McKinnon lived a normal life - an excellent student, a volleyball and soccer player, a fully involved community volunteer - until a few days before her 16th birthday, when she woke up with a horrible headache. Doctors initially thought it might be the aftermath of a sports-related concussion, but the symptoms wouldn't go away.
Tests produced the diagnosis - and a bleak outlook.
Galloway's mother, Tracy, refused to believe that the tumors (which are considered benign but continue to grow) would eventually rob her daughter of her hearing, sight, ability to walk and control of her facial muscles.
"I did a lot of searching on the Internet," she said.
"Mom really worked Google," her daughter recalled.
Soon, Tracy Galloway and her husband, Mark, discovered Dr. Jaishri Blakeley, director of the Comprehensive Neurofibromatosis Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. And they learned about a drug called Avastin, which cuts off the blood supply to tumors. Blakeley decided to try the drug on McKinnon.
Every three weeks during her junior year and the first part of her senior year, McKinnon received the drug.
"I got the maximum dose," she said. "And I didn't lose my hair. It made me weak, though."
The drug slowed the tumors' growth to a crawl, but by December, they had expanded enough to threaten McKinnon's hearing. So the Galloways decided to chance surgery - a risky procedure, since the tumors are close to nerves that control hearing, facial movement and other physical activities. The surgery was performed Feb. 21 in Phoenix.
"When I woke up, the first thing I asked my mother was if I could still smile," said McKinnon, laughing. "Doctors told me I'd be out of school for six weeks, but I was there two weeks later."
She had 42 absences from her first-period class in the first semester of her senior year, yet she never got a grade below B. "I won't make excuses for myself," McKinnon said.
Mark Galloway said his daughter "is a first-class fighter." Tracy Galloway added that when McKinnon was presented with a challenge, she found a way around it.
"When she couldn't play volleyball because of the disorder, she went out and coached a youth team," the mother said.
McKinnon said she realizes nothing is guaranteed. The tumors are slowly growing. The disorder is caused by a missing gene on her 22nd chromosome, but doctors haven't mastered gene therapy enough to develop a cure.
"We've learned to live with the unknown, to live in the moment," Tracy Galloway said.
McKinnon said she uses her free time to spread the word about NF2, to build financial support for research on the disorder. Tracy and Mark Galloway have donated a half-million dollars to Johns Hopkins for research on the use of Avastin on 14 patients.
"This study would not have happened without the Galloways' generous gift," Blakeley said.
"What happens to me? I don't know," McKinnon said. "I could go deaf tomorrow. If so, it will just be a lifestyle change. I'll work through it."