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‘Keep going’: Survivor doesn’t let setbacks get him down


Garrett Hill’s path in life has had its share of obstacles. But he has not let them stop him.

Now 23, Hill lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and works in the insurance business. He loves to golf, go bowling, and work out at the gym. He takes his dog, Drew, to the dog park whenever he can. 

But the journey to get to this point in life has had plenty of setbacks. Hill just keeps going.

The Michigan native has survived childhood cancer twice — once as a young child and again as a teen.

A person holding a dog

Hill takes a lot of walks with his dog, Drew.

Hill was diagnosed with a brain tumor called medulloblastoma when he was 5. He was treated at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit. When he was 16, he had osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, in his right cheek. After removing the tumor, doctors reconstructed his face using a bone from his right calf. The second cancer was the result of the radiation to his head for his brain tumor. He was treated at the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.

The treatments that saved his life left him with health problems years later. These treatment-related conditions are called late effects. His cancer treatment has caused hearing loss and some heart damage.

Hill also has a learning disability because of his treatment. As he describes it, the disability means he needs someone to help him learn new things. It is hard for him to learn on his own. Special education services helped him graduate from high school.

He attended a semester of college, but it was not a good fit for him. He entered the workforce, working at McDonald’s and the front desk of a mortgage firm.

Then Hill had the chance to intern at an insurance agency in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his brother worked. To become an insurance agent, Hill had to pass the state licensing exam. He studied and then took the licensing test. He almost passed. He took the exam again and just missed passing.

He was discouraged, but Hill’s family encouraged him to keep trying. He took the test 5 more times and still did not pass it.  He got pretty down, but still, he tried again.

Hill said the problem was that the study program was online. He struggled with online learning and really needed to work with a teacher. He found a class that was taught in person. The teacher told him to take the exam shortly after he completed the course. Hill took the exam for the 8th time.

After he finished the test, a computer graded it right away. Hill saw the word PASS on the results page.

“It felt so great after taking it 7 other times,” Hill says. “It was like going to Disneyland.”

His survivorship care team at the University of Michigan is thrilled at what Hill has accomplished, says Rama Jasty-Rao, MD, his doctor.

“He has had challenges not just in school but beyond school,” Jasty-Rao says. “But he has established himself in a career. In spite of all his challenges, he has an active lifestyle. He goes to the gym and he golfs with his brother.”

Moving away from home and starting a new life in Fort Wayne has made a huge difference, said Amy Edmonds, his nurse practitioner.

“He’s a great guy,” Edmonds says. “He’s always excited to see us. We look forward to seeing him. He’s been through hell, but he has always remained so kind.”

Life is pretty good these days, Hill says. It has its ups and downs. “Sometimes I make mistakes at work. But they are fixable mistakes. It might make things harder, but you keep going. My biggest tip is don't give up just because things seem hard.”

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