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Fight of Her Life: Clarion’s Aryana Girvan Vows to Beat the Four Cysts Growing on Her Brain That Threaten Her Health

CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — When Aryana Girvan looked into the mirror, a stranger peered back at her.

She no longer recognized herself.

(Above, Clarion Area junior Aryana Girvan has been diagnosed with cysts in her brain that are threatening her life.)

Usually outgoing, the 17-year-old junior at Clarion Area High School became increasingly withdrawn.

She was dizzy to the point of occasionally losing consciousness. Her anxiety and depression deepened. Her memory was unreliable — she was forgetting things from the mundane to the profound. She lost 20 pounds in 10 weeks.

Girvan knew something was terribly wrong when she had lost her intense passion for volleyball, the sport she had poured her heart and soul into for years.

That’s what scared Girvan the most.

“I was this whole other person,” Girvan said, “and I didn’t know why.”

The initial diagnosis for Girvan – a 5-foot-3 outside hitter for the Bobcats who plays much bigger than her size and with a will of iron – was clinical depression and anxiety.

She went on medication.

Her problems only intensified.

Finally, her doctor ordered an MRI and then a CT scan.

Then, the worst possible news.

Doctors found as many as four cysts growing in the back of her brain near the spine.

One of the cysts is pressing on the memory center of her brain.

Girvan is a two-time state champion with the Clarion volleyball team. She played a huge role on the Bobcats’ run to a 24-0 record and another Class A title this past fall.

She remembers very little of it.

(Girvan and Noel Anthony share a hug after a PIAA Class A volleyball playoff game this past fall.)

“One of the hardest things about all of this is the stuff with my memory,” Girvan said. “I can’t remember a lot of stuff from the state championship. We were at our ring ceremony, and we were watching the game, and everyone’s like, ‘I remember that!’ I didn’t. I don’t remember a single thing.”

According to the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of North Carolina, large brain cysts can block the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which can cause increased pressure on the brain. Cysts can also leak into other areas of the brain, or blood vessels on the cyst’s surface can bleed into the cyst causing a hematoma. If left untreated, cysts can cause neurological damage.

Girvan and her family — mother, Tracy, father, Nathan, older sister, Kyara, and younger brother, Dauntae, are still waiting for more definitive test results that will hopefully show what kind of cysts are afflicting her.

They got some good news — none are cancerous.

The next step is still to be determined, namely how invasive and complicated the surgery to remove them will be.

“The first thing I did was start crying,” Girvan said. “The first thing I asked was, ‘What’s going to happen with volleyball?’ Then I asked, ‘Are they going to shave my head?’

“I’m more worried about them shaving my head than I am about the surgery,” she added, laughing, “which is a good thing because thinking about that it takes my mind off the other things.”

No one can be sure when the cysts developed. They could have grown early in her life — Girvan was 10 weeks premature — or they could have formed as a side effect of head and neck trauma — she was a gymnast before volleyball beckoned to her, and as she says with a chuckle, “I fell a lot.”

Girvan is just relieved to now know the root of her health problems. But she is also grappling with the uncertainty of her future.

She tries to put on a brave face around her family and her close friends on the volleyball team and at school.

Deep inside, though, Girvan is fighting a war to hold everything together.

Her older sister, Kyara, has helped with that.

“She’s the only one keeping me together,” Aryana Girvan said.

(Older sister Kyara Girvan, left, has been a rock for Aryana through her ordeal.)

The sisters have a dark sense of humor, which has helped them navigate their fear.

Kyara snickers as she says she won’t shave her head in solidarity with her sister, should it come to that, because her hair doesn’t grow fast enough.

That’s OK. There could be plenty of other bald teenagers in Clarion.

“The amount of people who have said they’d shave their heads for my sister is staggering,” Kyara said, smiling.

Aryana is grateful for all the support.

She frequents sporting events and has had countless peers, from her school and elsewhere around District 9, come up to her and offer prayers and support.

And lots of hugs.

Kyara has been there for her little sister. She went through her own health scare as a senior at Clarion when she developed 10 blood clots in her left lung and 14 in her right that nearly killed her.

It took Kyara, now 19, two years to get back onto the volleyball court. She turned in a stellar sophomore season at Penn State-DuBois this past fall.

“One nice thing with us is we know that we’re never really alone,” Kyara said. “No matter where we’re at, we’ll always have each other’s back. I’m really glad I’m home because, not that I’ve gone through the same thing, but I’ve gone through bad health news and health scares and was told I might not play volleyball again.”

Kyara knows her sister well. When she senses the weight of what Aryana is going through grow heavy, she takes her on 2 a.m. runs to Sheetz, shopping, or merely lays in bed with her for comfort.

“We are the exact same person — we bottle things up until it explodes,” Kyara said.

(Aryana and Kyara share a hug. There’s been a lot of those recently.)

The talks with her sister have helped Aryana immensely. Already strong-willed, she is understandably afraid, but also resolute in her belief she will conquer this.

“(Kyara) always asks me if I’m scared,” Aryana said. “And I always keep saying, ‘I’m not going down without a fight. We’re gonna get through this.’ Thankfully, my best friend’s home.”

“My sister is the most stubborn person on the planet,” Kyara said, laughing. “She’s gonna be just fine.”

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