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Spotlight Iowa City: A ‘person with a lot of dreams’

BY EMILY BUSSE | APRIL 19, 2010 7:30 AM

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Stopped at a Wendy’s to take break from a family road trip, Wade Bushman’s daughter complained about a stomachache. Bushman, a physician, jokingly told the 6-year-old to lie down on the red leather bench.

But pressing on the child’s abdomen Bushman felt an abnormal mass, and his “heart dropped to the floor.”

In an unfamiliar area in the middle of Ohio, the family found the nearest hospital. And after blood tests and hours of waiting, they found out what was causing Norah’s paleness, bruises, and enlarged spleen. Cancer.

Just out of kindergarten, Bushman was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia; she underwent chemotherapy and treatment for two years.

Now an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Iowa, Bushman, without any signs of recurrence, is studying French and tutoring, and she has her options open when it comes to a career — bakery owner, businesswoman, teacher.

“I’m the kind of person with a lot of dreams,” she said.

But the effects of surviving cancer as a child are still present in her everyday life.

“Something like having been very ill — you never totally put it in the past, ever,” said her mother, Ellen Bushman. “Every once in a while, something will remind you of it.”

Her illness also affected how Bushman’s father views his children.

“It’s great if you get good grades, it’s great if you go to a good school, but I just love you because you’re alive,” he said.

As a child, going to elementary school bald, exhausted, and behind in the course work singled her out, Noah Bushman said. The “ruthless” kids would make her try to do math problems out loud because they knew she would get them wrong and tease her.

In fifth grade, she moved toMadison, Wis., where Bushman was able to “start over, do it on my own terms, and tell who I wanted to tell.” By the time she reached high school, she felt comfortable telling people about her experience as a kid.

Her past struggles with teasing made her who she is today, she said.

“I know what it’s like to be judged when you don’t deserve it,” she said. “I’ll give everyone a shot because a lot of people didn’t give me that.”

Bushman, who fell in love with the UI after five minutes on campus, said the size of organizations such as Dance Marathon mean a lot and “being at a meeting where the IMU Ballroom is packed with people felt so good.”

Though she had intended to participate in Dance Marathon, she said it was still too emotional.

“I’m not at the point where I can deal with it head-on yet,” Bushman said, and she is “gearing up” to do Dance Marathon and Relay for Life next year.

In the meantime, Bushman said donating her spare change to St. Jude’s has become a regular practice. She had first donated as a child, giving 17 cents in hopes of finding a less painful procedure for extracting bone marrow.

Such small steps do make a difference, Bushman said.

“Even if someone wants to donate 10 cents, it means the world to someone like me because I’ve been there,” Bushman said. “It means it’s someone thinking about it and wanting to do a small part.”

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