When a college student graduates, he or she will probably be given the advice to “live life to the fullest,” an expression that many take for granted.
Not Camelia Fowler.
That advice has special meaning for the 25-year-old Riverside native. As a Cal State San Bernardino student, she has endured two major brain surgeries to remove a tumor and its regrowth.
But for all that she has been through, her determination has never wavered and this weekend will see one of her dreams come true. This weekend she will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
“I might cry just because it was a struggle to get to this point. But they would be tears of happiness and tears of joy,” Fowler said. “I’ve had a good life. It’s not to say that I’m going to die, but I have no regrets. I could have had brain cancer. I’ve been blessed to not have a cancerous tumor.”
She credits her family’s support and her strong faith in God for helping her get through the surgeries and recoveries.
That support will still be there as Fowler won’t be alone when she walks up to the stage at the graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 16, for the CSUSB College of Business and Public Administration. Her mother, Loretta; brother, Nathan; and sisters Nicole and Natasha will be sitting in the stands at Coussoulis Arena to cheer her on.
Sitting with her and the other graduates, though, will be her father, Tim Fowler, who will be there to offer more than moral support.
“As a parent, you want your child to do very well and I think she has,” said Tim Fowler. “I’m very proud of her.”
But he, too, will be wearing a cap and gown. The older Fowler will also be participating in the graduation exercises, something he didn’t have time to do when he received his degree from Cal State San Bernardino in 1985.
At the time Tim Fowler, who is now the regional parole administrator for the state Department of Corrections overseeing San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange, Imperial and San Diego counties, was a newly hired correction officer when he received his bachelor’s degree in arts and sociology. But the ceremony was held during his work shift.
“I was relatively new and didn’t want to ask for the time off,” said Tim Fowler. Since that time, he has always regretted it, saying he missed a rite of passage.
But the opportunity to both support Camelia and participate in the graduation came from Camelia herself, who works in the university’s office of academic affairs. She talked about her father not participating in his own graduation to one of her co-workers and learned that he was eligible to walk as a CSUSB graduate.
“When Camelia mentioned it to me, I said, ‘Absolutely!’ I was excited to do it and I’m not easily excited,” Tim Fowler said. “This is a special moment.”
Fowler was truly afraid when he learned about his daughter’s brain tumor. He didn’t know what to expect.
It all began in the fall of 2005. Camelia, who had a headache all day, was on campus in University Hall and headed for Jack Brown Hall to a class.
“I never made it to Jack Brown Hall. I passed out,” she said.
A student – to this day Camelia has no idea who – helped revive her and called an ambulance.
“He urged me to go to the hospital. But I didn’t want to go,” she said. “But when the ambulance arrived, I walked to it and they took me to the hospital.”
She was examined and given an X-ray. The results showed that she had a mass in the back of her brain stem. She was transferred to Kaiser Medical Center in Fontana and admitted into the intensive care unit. Further tests revealed it was a tumor, but the doctors didn’t know if it was cancerous. She underwent surgery the next day.
The doctors removed most of the small tangerine-sized tumor, which was benign. But they couldn’t remove it entirely because of its location on the brain stem and the possibility of paralysis.
“They removed what they thought was safe,” said Fowler, who was hospitalized for a week. But she was forced to withdraw for the fall quarter and returned to school in the winter of 2006.
“The recovery went very well. I was to get an MRI every six months to monitor the tumor and then once a year,” she said.
In October 2010, she went in for a routine check-up. Fowler said she was feeling fine, but the doctor said the tumor had grown to the size of the tip of a thumbnail.
“He didn’t like that it had shown growth and wanted to do surgery,” Fowler said.
She held off because she was still in the fall quarter of classes, but agreed to have the surgery done in January so she could celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, though Fowler admits she and her family did worry.
The surgery went well, the growth was removed, but Fowler was forced to miss the winter quarter. She came back to school in spring 2011.
She will have to go in for periodic exams for the rest of her life, but Fowler is content to live her life, crediting her family and strong faith for her strength and determination in dealing with her medical condition.
She is looking forward to the fall, when she will begin her graduate studies at Cal State San Bernardino in pursuit of an M.B.A. Though she loves working at the university, Fowler thinks about her dream job working in sports marketing for the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I’m up for that too.”
The graduation ceremonies at Cal State San Bernardino’s Coussoulis Arena will be streamed online on the university’s academic computing and media live webcast page. For more information on the university’s commencement ceremonies, visit the CSUSB commencement Web page.
For more information about Cal State San Bernardino, contact the university’s Office of Public Affairs at (909) 537-5007 and visit news.csusb.edu.