During Janet Rivers' final semester as a biology major at York College, she was taking care of her two sons, running a nature preserve and a children's nature camp, and working as a botanist.
She thought the headaches she began experiencing on a daily basis in September simply came with the territory of her busy schedule.
And she thought they would subside after her Dec. 19 graduation date.
"I thought it was stress and that Dec. 19 would come and it would disappear," said Rivers, 34.
But the headaches persisted, and Rivers went to the emergency room two weeks ago because she was throwing up and her vision was blurred.
"As a biology major, I had an inkling that the headaches might be something more," the York Township resident said.
A CT scan revealed a brain tumor the size of a tennis ball growing on the back of her cerebellum.
"I just cried and thought of the boys," said Rivers, referring to her sons, Caspian, 14, and Cooper, 5.
"But my doctor's next sentence was that (they) have the very best neurosurgeons and 'It's going to be fine,'" she said.
Two days later, she had surgery to remove the slow-growing tumor.
A check for other tumors or cancer in her body came up clear, and Rivers has been resting as much as possible while wrapping up her course work.
Support: "York College and my whole biology department has been amazing," she said. "I had a professor or someone at my house every day with food."
"They turned into my immediate family," said Rivers.
Her peers in the biology department helped get the heat in her home fixed and had her car repaired.
"All of this stuff just happened all at once," she said. "I'm so proud to tell everyone how wonderful everybody here is. At a bigger school, it would not be the same."
Rivers' professors extended deadlines, gave her take-home finals when possible and "did things they didn't have to do," she said.
The goal: They were all pushing for the same goal -- for Rivers to walk and receive her diploma at York College's graduation ceremony Wednesday.
And she will.
Rivers' post-graduation plans have already begun unfolding. She has been working as a botanist for Almonys Property Maintenance since being hired earlier this year. She checks the plants at all of their sites for disease, finds solutions to use instead of traditional chemical sprays and tries to include as many native plant species as possible.
Rivers majored in biology and has two minors, one in geography and the other in sustainability and environmental sciences.
"I wanted to figure out how to live in the woods forever," she said.
Her work: Her senior thesis project was a habitat assessment of Mountain Lake in Franklin County, which presented the opportunity for Rivers to work with the Fannettsburg Wildlife Foundation. She was elected president of the nonprofit nature preserve and has been working on getting research grants for use at that site.
She also runs Campingston, a nature camp at the preserve that teaches students ages 7 to 15 about sustainability.
"My goal is just to get kids out into nature and teach them why they should take care of the Earth, and why they should care about where their food comes from," said Rivers.
"It has organically grown from me just being at school," Rivers said. "Everything I've done (at school) has actually culminated into what I will be doing next year."
"It's been an amazing year and I feel like the luckiest person in the world, even with my brain tumor," Rivers said.
-- Reach Chelsea Shank at 505-5432 or firstname.lastname@example.org