HONOLULU (KHON2) — Nothing can get between Noah Pila, 18, and paddling.
Not even brain cancer.
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The Big Island teenager and his Kamehameha teammates finished 7th overall in the HHSAA Canoe Paddling championships, held at Keehi Lagoon in Honolulu on Feb. 4.
An impressive finish, considering that just eight weeks ago, Noah underwent major brain surgery.
“I got a seizure at the beach after a paddling race. I didn’t know what it was. Good thing I was with my mom. She already knew,” he explained.
“He’s never had a seizure before,” said his mother, Anna Golden Kaaua. “That was the first time ever. He’s super healthy, has never had any medical problems. It was really surprising.”
Noah was taken to Hilo Medical Center. An MRI discovered a cancerous tumor in his brain.
“I was, like, ‘Oh snap.’ That wasn’t what I was looking forward to hearing. But, I was, like, ‘Alright. Let’s get this over with,'” said Noah.
The shock hadn’t even worn off before Noah and his mother were flown to The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu.
The 18-year-old immediately underwent 7 intense hours of surgery to remove the cancerous tumor.
“I was, like ‘Ho, that’s pretty nuts. But, I mean, cutting open a head is kinda nuts. I don’t remember anything!” he said.
“They cut him open from ear to ear and they removed the tumor and the surrounding tissue. So they took a really big chunk out of his brain. That was intense,” Kaaua described.
It took awhile for Noah to wake up from surgery.
But, on day 3, Noah said “I was showing signs of myself.”
“The first couple of days, he couldn’t really use his right side of his body, which was concerning in itself. But, then day 3, he just started showing up. He started moving the right side of his body, and he’s been progressing so well,” said Kauua.
Noah went through rehab to re-learn how to write and speak, and his quick recovery had his “doctors surprised,” Kauua added. “They’re, like, ‘We’ve never seen someone recover this fast before.'”
But, Noah thinks he knows why.
He credits his age (“I’m in my prime to be able to fight this stuff.”), support from his family and friends and, of course, “paddling, and wanting to get back out into the water.”
Noah’s doctors cleared the Kamehameha senior to compete in the canoe paddling championships, but he’s still got a long road ahead.
The 18-year-old must still undergo chemotherapy and radiation and has plans to fly to San Francisco for continued evaluation.
“I see it as a speed bump in life. I want to be someone anybody can look up to for inspiration. It’s one of those paths that God put me on. I just gotta get over that little speed bump.”
Cancer is no match for his mind.
“Mindset is everything. You gotta stay strong in the brain. Regardless, if you got brain taken out, you just gotta do it and stay positive.”
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“He’s an amazing — I cannot call him a kid. He’s an amazing adult,” said Kamehameha Paddling Team Head Coach Shin Yung.