Rizo Undergoes Major Surgeries to Remove Eye Tumor

Filed under: Schools |
Submitted by Panther Prints
Story by  Allie Peregory
After the discovery of a tumor behind her eye, senior Diana Rizo began taking home bound instruction from Economics teacher John Strunc. The to of them have learned many things together as Diana remains at home away from the things she loves about being at school on a regular basis. (Chase Apperson Photo)

As a junior Diana Rizo dashed back and forth on the tennis court by day and then took her place in the saxophone section on the marching field by night. Coaches saw her as one of the top tennis players on the team and the band directors selected her as a squad leader. That was then, now as a senior Rizo’s life is filled with surgery after surgery, lesson after lesson at home, and no more marching band shows or tennis matches. She gets visits from friends and her coach on occasion and doesn’t even step out on the tennis court for fear of being hit with a ball because she can not see clearly to her left side.

“I definitely had a lot to look forward to for the beginning of my senior year,” Diana said. “It has taken a long time to get over all of the things I could have done my senior year but can not do because of my surgeries .”

Following a church trip this summer Diana woke up from a nap with a pain behind her left eye. A week later a black spot formed in her right peripheral vision and she felt pain when she tried to look to the left. Little did Diana know that waking up from that nap would change her and her family’s life heading into her senior year.

“I felt a little bit of panic at first not really knowing what the problem was,” Diana’s mother Mary Anne Rizo said. “It really came out of the blue.”

Diana’s mother then took her to a doctor where she was told there was grape-sized tumor growing behind her eye on the optic nerve.

“It didn’t quite hit me what the doctor was saying at first,” Diana said. “But as soon as I saw the picture I knew there was a serious problem.”

The tumor and surgeries keep Diana from keep her from doing what she said she loves. She missed her senior year in marching band and can not play tennis either.

“The tumor has prevented me from doing so much of what I love, like band and tennis. Even just going to school and being with my friends I get tired really easily,” Rizo said. “People talk about how they wouldn’t be able to give up all of this stuff, and this is my situation. It tears me apart.”

Rizo’s first surgery was Jan. 4, 2011. The surgery lasted for five hours until the surgeon punctured a cyst and there was a burst of blood. It was not until six months later before the family was able to find out the surgery was unsuccessful and the tumor remained.

“Waiting to find out the answers, probably kills you the most,” Mrs. Rizo said. “Not knowing what is going on keeps you worried as a mother.”

Aug. 19, Diana went back into surgery. This time was unsuccessful forcing Diana to begin her senior year at home waiting on another surgery at the end of the year in Pittsburgh.

“Most of the time we just stay at home because Diana tires easy and she is in a lot of pain most of the time,” Ms. Rizo said. “But she keeps a fairly upbeat attitude. We have had wonderful people helping us out.”

Ms. Rizo found doctors in Pittsburgh on the internet that matched a search she did on orbital neuro surgery. She said this was just the surgery Diana needs to correct her eye problem.

“It is God’s work, how we found the doctors in Pittsburgh,” Ms. Rizo said. “It is just a miracle how we found them.”

After locating the doctors, the Rizo’s decided to spend Christmas in Pittsburgh while Diana had her final surgery. Going into the surgery just before Christmas, Diana said she was concerned the procedure would cause brain damage or harm muscles in her eye. This surgery was successful and Diana now has no limitations to her eyesight and has minimal pain behind her eye.

“The people at the hospital were all so sweet. You could tell they were happy to help us and knew what we were going through,” Diana said. “I felt confident in the doctors with whatever they did. The surgery went as perfectly as it could get in my opinion.”

Because of her previous surgeries and her pain levels, Diana receives home bound instruction.

“In my opinion, being home bound is not the choice any student wants to have to make. I believe that all students would rather be at school amongst their peers,” counselor T. Hudson said. “A home bound placement is only made when it is absolutely medically necessary and is often times the last resort after several other accommodations have been considered.

Diana’s home bound teacher is U.S. History teacher John Strunc. Diana is Strunc’s first home bound student and he admits it has been a great experience for his first time.

“Diana is just a great kid. She is a wonderful student and a wonderful person,” Strunc said. “When I found out I could do to help her, I really wanted to do this.”

Strunc visits the Rizo home after school a couple of days a week and helps her with her school assignments, spending about four hours a week with her.

“His helping me shows me how dedicated these teachers are. Mr. Strunc is an amazing teacher. He has helped me so much with all my classes,” Diana said. “It has just given me a new perspective of how everything works.”

Coach Trent Sellers says that in middle school before Rizo starting excelling in band she was already a tennis stand out. He admits that Rizo could have played tennis for a college prior to her setback.

“My heart hurt for her so much when I found out Diana wouldn’t be able to play tennis because I knew how much she would miss it,” Sellers said. “It’s been a tough year without her here. Everyone misses her. I miss her most of all. The team isn’t as good with her not playing. It was always great having someone with her heart leading the way.”

Ms. Rizo said this experience has not been easy, but the support her family has received from others has been a blessing.

“It has taken a toll on our family, but at the same time we really have learned a lot and grown a lot because of all the great people we have met.” Ms. Rizo said.

Diana is expected to have one more surgery to repair the muscles in her eye that were damaged by the tumor and the first surgery. It is her hope that this procedure will help her eye turn all the way to the left and give her the ability to lift her eyelid all the way up. Diana said through all of the surgeries and experiences she has learned many things about herself.

“I have learned that inside me I have this confident beautiful self. It doesn’t matter what I look like I’m still beautiful. It has taken years for me to believe that,” Rizo said. “I learned that I am a pretty strong person and have many gifts within me that I never really realized. I learned how much I am loved and pretty much known. I’m actually known around the world now, at least prayer wise.”

Diana plans on attending college in the fall to become a filmmaker, admitting that her dream is to be a part of a camera crew that films animals in the wild. She said her relationship with God has given her strength and shown her open doors and opportunities.

“It doesn’t matter what I go through, I know that if I leave it to God that He will help me and provide what I need,” Diana said. “He has touched me in so many ways that I believe it has humbled me more and showed me the possibilities I could have.