Robert Chapman was in fifth grade when he noticed the first signs that something was terribly wrong: the constant headaches and exhaustion.
"I was told it was due to puberty and I should let it slide," he recalled. "Then one day I collapsed in my apartment and my mom was like, 'No, we have to take him to the emergency room.'"
Doctors discovered a tumor in his brain, present since birth and growing undetected until it became the size of a golf ball. After the surgery to remove it, Robert had to relearn how to walk and talk. During months of therapy, a teacher helped him keep up with his studies.
"It was motivation for me to just keep going, no matter what," Robert said. "Don't let the tumor get in the way of what's happening."
With the support of his family and never losing his faith, the teenager was able to maintain strong grades, earning a free ride at All Hallows High School in the Bronx, through the Inner City Scholarship Fund.
"He has overcome so many obstacles in his life that anything laid before him, he will rise to the occasion," All Hallows High School President Sean Sullivan said.
But the road has been far from easy. In 2014, another tumor was discovered, this one pressing against his optic nerve, causing temporary blindness. And the following year, doctors found a third brain tumor. Both were removed, and Robert is now considered tumor-free.
"I'm proud of it, because I tell my grandmother all the time it's a battle scar," Robert said about his surgery scars. "It's not something to be ashamed of."
Robert's will to live and succeed is an inspiration to his mother, who has Multiple sclerosis.
"Seeing him supersede so much tells me I'm going to be okay, because look at everything he's been through and he's still standing strong," Catherine Cabassa said.
Despite the multiple surgeries and medications, Robert was able to graduate on time from high school earlier this month and was accepted to Mercy College. He hopes to go medical school after that.
"Don't take life for granted. Live every day and … cherish it," Robert said. "Basically cherish everything that you get."
Robert says that after working so hard in high school, he's really looking forward to enjoying summer vacation with family and friends. Then, he's off to college in September.
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