Early in her first semester as a college student at Anne Arundel Community College, Stephanie Musselman, a 2010 graduate of Broadneck High School, thought she had a serious cold. The teen was wracked by a deep, hacking cough, her heart pounded and climbing the stairs to her classes winded her.
Stephanie is majoring in criminal justice and hopes to get into drug enforcement, because, she said, “I want to change the world.”
Her dog, Storm, a frisky yellow Labrador, sensed something was amiss. When Stephanie started experiencing fainting spells, the dog began barking moments before they happened, summoning help immediately. He would not leave her side. Finally, after two months of fruitless doctor visits, on Nov. 11, 2010, Stephanie was diagnosed with B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphoid tissue in her chest. A tumorous mass was pressing against a lung and heart. Doctors determined surgery to remove the mass was impossible.
What followed was five months of intensive inpatient chemotherapy at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. All of her hair fell out. A family friend who had survived cancer flew in from the Midwest with a tote bag filled with glamorous wigs for Stephanie to wear.
Despite her ordeal, Stephanie completed the 2010 fall semester and returned as a full-time student last September. She also has rejoined the staff at Office Depot in Severna Park as a part-time cashier. Remembering her trials and life on the pediatric oncology unit at Johns Hopkins, Stephanie donated a child’s desk to the unit and dropped by during Thanksgiving week to visit the children who could not go home for the holiday. She had spent the previous Thanksgiving in the unit as a patient.
To her surprise, Stephanie was recently granted a wish through the Kids Wish Network, a national charitable organization that helped 73,197 kids in its last fiscal year. Although Stephanie is an “old” kid, the group was ready to make her dream come true: she wanted to take a cruise and swim with a dolphin.
Jan. 15, Stephanie flew to Miam with her mother Leeann, and brothers Shawn, 16, andBrad for the start of a five-day dream trip.
At the airport, a limousine waited to whisk them to an overnight stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The next day, the limousine delivered them to a Carnival Cruise Line ship for a four-day trip to Key West, Fla., and Cozumel, Mexico. Aboard the vessel the foursome received VIP treatment. Ashore, the highlight of the trip was Stephanie’s 90-minute swim in Cozumel with Alexia, a young, 400-pound dolphin.
“It was incredible. It was on my bucket list. It was so cool,” the teen said. “Alexia felt rubbery, but she was very friendly. I danced and swam with her. I got to hold her and I gave her a kiss.”
Stephanie and her family are grateful her wish came true. It gave the teen and her family a few days of much-needed, stress-free relaxation.
Good news: Stephanie has regained the 27 pounds she lost during her illness and treatment. Her hair is slowly growing back. Beneath her wig du jour, Stephanie sports a wispy pixie cut. The cancer is in remission, her energy and immunes system are back on track. She’s on AACC’s honor roll.