Sophomore participates in unique activities to find his own relief from cancer

Strapping on his bike helmet, sophomore Clay Womack prepares to begin a 25 mile race against other young cyclists from all over the world. One of the other racers is the number one youth cyclist in the nation. The pressure is heavy on Clay’s shoulders. His only goal is to win.. The race starts and Clay is in his element. On days like these, nothing else matters. Little did his opponents know that Clay has battled brain cancer for a great part of his life.

Clay began battling severe headaches when he was 3 years old. After undergoing many tests, his doctor informed him that his headaches weren’t as dangerous as they originally feared. After moving to Austin in third grade, a local doctor discovered that Clay had been living with brain cancer all along.

“When I was 3, I went to have a couple of MRIs, and they saw that I had some abnormalities in my brain,” Clay said. “They didn’t think that was the cause of the headaches, so they didn’t do anything. I continued to live my life, but the new Austin doctor said there definitely was something there, and it had to be removed.”

Clay had a benign cyst that eventually became a cancerous tumor located right on his brain stem. Because of the tumor, he has undergone surgery four times. In the first three surgeries, doctors attempted to drain the tumor, but that failed entirely. They eventually determined a more radical approach was necessary.

“The point of the fourth surgery was to make my head larger and allow for more room and less pressure,” Clay said. “They cut a piece of my skull off and shaved the inside down a little bit, then sewed everything back together. That last surgery has really helped. It decreased the size of the cancerous tumor by one and a half centimeters.”

Now, almost 12 years after he was first diagnosed with brain cancer, Clay has made amazing progress. The cyst that was originally two centimeters in diameter, located on the brain stem, has now become only a centimeter in diameter. Clay no longer suffers from severe headaches. Clay and his doctors decided to not remove the tumor in fear that the surgery would cause more harm than necessary.

“I used to think I was invincible,” Clay said. “I still do, but I know I’m vulnerable. That’s something really important I have learned through this journey. I always know my family is here for me, and God will push me to get through it.”

During the recovery from this fourth surgery last year, Clay was not at Westlake. Instead, he dedicated a great amount of time to biking to help himself overcome the cancer. He rode 25 miles every day and raced every Thursday against other talented youth cycalists.

“When I’m biking I feel so strong and nothing can stop me,” Clay said. “I’ll get a rush of adrenaline and test my body to its limits and it’s exhilarating.”

In the same year, Clay decided to apply to a summer camp that would send him traveling abroad in China. After earning perfect scores on three out of the four Young Chinese Learner’s Tests, he was accepted into the Hanaban Summer Intensive. During that same month, he learned that a Chinese essay he wrote would buy him another month in China through the Find Your Roots camp.

“I’ve been trying to go to China for a while because I have been learning Chinese for a really long time, and with the language, you really need to immerse yourself,” Clay said.

Clay spent a month in Shanghai and later toured Beijing, Shin Jin, Hong Kong and many other large cities. He noticed huge cultural differences between the United States and China.

“The looks you get from native Chinese people being an American who can speak their language is very interesting,” Clay said. “They practically worship you if you have at least some knowledge of their language.”

During the whole two months of the summer that Clay spent in China, he felt very grateful that his brain cancer wasn’t affecting him.

“China was the most amazing experience of my life mostly because I felt cancer-free and never once had a headache,” Clay said. “I went scuba diving in the Beijing Aquarium, was going city-to-city on an airplane nearly every day and never once felt down because of my cancer.”