Commodores inspired by 14-year-old's battle with cancer

March 21, 2014

When the Vanderbilt lacrosse team takes the field on Sunday against Penn, there will be an extra starter in the lineup.

Fourteen-year-old Bishop Mikaelian will be on the sidelines cheering on the Commodores. Bishop (pictured above with Rascal Flatts and her mother, Allison Bezou) has been a friend of the team for the past two years thanks to a partnership with the Friends of Jacqueline Foundation (FOJ). The non-profit organization's mission is to improve the quality of life for children and families fighting pediatric brain tumors by pairing them up with college and high school athletic teams.

"She is extremely inspiring," coach Cathy Swezey said. "It reminds you to keep things in perspective and charge forward. Sometimes we allow problems to become too big, and our daily fight is nothing compared to hers." Five years ago, a tumor was found on Bishop's brain stem. She was only nine years old. After doctors determined the tumor was inoperable, a biopsy discovered Bishop had ganglioglioma - a rare cancerous tumor that accounts for just one percent of all brain tumors.

The tumor grew to three centimeters, despite radiation treatments attempting to reduce the tumor. After the radiation, hydrocephalus, or excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain, set in and a permanent shunt was placed in her head to drain fluids into her stomach.

She underwent 15 months of chemotherapy and was hospitalized multiple times for chronic pneumonia. The chemotherapy was believed to have stunt the growth of tumor but not shrink the size. In 2010, she spent four weeks in the intensive care unit. She went into a medically induced coma for eight days and was on life support, prompting doctors to perform a tracheotomy. Two years ago, the tracheostomy tube was removed.

Bishop continues to fight a battle with pneumonia, which has sent her to the hospital more than 30 times. The pneumonia has left permanent scarring in her lungs and in 2012 she was diagnosed with bronchiectasis. She uses a breathing machine when she sleeps, and visits a speech therapist frequently as her left vocal cord is paralyzed. For the last four years, she has been fed nutrients and liquids through a gastrostomy tube in her stomach.

Even with these daunting and unfathomable circumstances, Bishop has shown resolve and courage that is truly inspiring. At one time, she was bedridden and dependent on a wheelchair for eight months. Now, thanks to help from occupational and physical therapists, she walks under her own power and the eighth grader regularly attends school in Mt. Juliet.

"She amazes me," said her mother, Allison Bezou.

Swezey is equally impressed with Bezou, who also has an autistic son, Warrick.

"Her mom is an incredible individual and very strong," Swezey said. "She has more on her plate than anyone deserves."

Senior captain Abby Wheeler and several of her teammates have visited Bishop at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. Bishop has also come out to practice with her brother. Wheeler, who bonds with Bishop over their affinity for Justin Bieber, is always impressed with Bishop's toughness and fortitude.

"We were pretty blown away how much she has been through and how resilient she is, especially for someone her age," Wheeler said. "She is always in high spirits."

Both Allison and Bishop will be in attendance on Sunday for Vanderbilt's 1 p.m. game against Penn. Bishop will join the team on the bench and will be announced with the starting lineup as part of Vanderbilt's FOJ Day.

The Commodores have been raising funds for the foundation and will continuing taking donations through Saturday. To donate, click here.

Allison said Sunday's game is two years in the making as unexpected hospital trips and scheduling conflicts have delayed the game. The Commodores are excited to have her on the bench and pull inspiration from Bishop's journey.

"I know she is going to look forward to this," Allison said. "She is shy but the one time she met the team she had a blast. She will definitely be looking forward to Sunday."



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