Working toward two degrees is challenging under any circumstances. While battling stage 4 brain cancer?
At this past December’s virtual graduation ceremonies, when President Fuchs congratulated students for having succeeded despite unprecedented challenges, his message hit home for one student in particular: Lily Norenberg (BSISE ’20, MSM ’20).
The 23-year-old had not only just received her master’s degree in management — six months after earning a bachelor’s in industrial and systems engineering — she had done so while battling stage 4 brain cancer.
“I felt like I had really accomplished something,” said Norenberg. “And I felt I was part of a family of sorts with all the other students whose names came up on screen.”
Becoming a double Gator crowned her 18-month fight against medulloblastoma, a type of brain cancer more commonly found in children. After her initial diagnosis in August 2019, Norenberg underwent two brain surgeries at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville and six weeks of proton-beam radiation at UF Health Jacksonville, along with weekly chemotherapy sessions.
“Thankfully, I got a month or so to heal after that before I started four months of what I refer to as ‘big chemo’ at UF Health Shands, which I finished in March 2020,” she said.
After a single semester off, the determined Gator continued her undergraduate coursework, fitting in exams and research papers around chemo and radiation appointments. The powerful treatments left her weak and unable to walk long distances, but with the help of UF’s Disability Resource Center she was able to resume and complete her master’s coursework in management last year, despite disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Her first clean MRI came in early December 2019, and no scans since have shown signs of returning cancer.
“Although my oncologist says I have to have two years of clean MRIs to be ‘in remission,’ I have been cancer free for more than a year!” she said proudly.
Norenberg said she owes her survival and ongoing return to health to an “amazing support system” that includes: experts at UF Health Shands and Jacksonville; her UF alum parents, Cynthia (BSA ’86) and Eric Norenberg (MD ’88); understanding professors and friends; her devoted Phi Mu sisters; a grandpa who shaved his head in solidarity; family yoga sessions; and the “ultimate weapon” — her mom’s healing grilled-cheese sandwiches.
“The Gator Nation rallied around me to help me beat this disease,” she said. “I will be forever grateful.”
Gator Nation News talked with Norenberg about her life-changing experience. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
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