Battling Bruin: Gabriella

Posted July 2014

The UCLA Class of 2014 just celebrated their years of hard work, dedication and commitment to their education on Graduation Day. They listened to commencement speeches and reflected on the ups and the downs, the adversity they faced and the obstacles they had to overcome to make it to graduation. Gabriella Kasley was one of the many UCLA seniors who sat in the sea of blue caps and gowns that filled Wilson Plaza. However, Gabriella’s road to graduation was a much bumpier one than most.

In 2011, Gabriella was diagnosed HIV positive at the UCLA Medical Center. Like most college students, she thought she was invincible. She treated her sickness like the flu; something that would eventually go away. She ignored the doctors and lived in denial. Over time, Gabriella noticed that she was not getting any better and barely had enough energy make it through a day of classes. After living in denial for one and a half years, Gabriella checked herself into the UCLA Medical Center.

Gabriella’s immune system had completely shut down and the doctors informed her that she now had AIDS. The doctors also noticed a potentially dangerous lesion on her lungs and unfortunately determined that Gabriella had also developed Kaposi Sarcoma, a type of cancer.

Hearing the devastating news that she was both an AIDS and cancer patient, Gabriella became severely depressed. She lived in the hospital and could not get herself out of bed for months. The friends she had prior to developing AIDS and cancer seemed to abandon her because they did not know how to handle Gabriella’s illness. By the time the doctors had finally gotten her healthy enough so that she could go back to her dorm, Gabriella did not have the will to live.

One day the doctors asked Gabriella to go out onto the balcony and she skeptically walked outside. It was then that a four-month-old beagle puppy ran immediately up to Gabriella and greeted her with wet kisses. The doctors gave Gabriella two options: she could stay here in the hospital without the puppy or she could go back home with him. “I immediately packed my bags!” said Gabriella. She did not even have to think twice, she grabbed her belongings and Burrito, her new beagle puppy, and went back to campus.

While Burrito was Gabriella’s encouragement to return to campus from the hospital, she unfortunately still needed to go back frequently. Every time she got a common cold, Tylenol wouldn’t do and it was back to the hospital for tests and antibiotics. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday Gabriella went in for chemotherapy. “It’s these days when I can’t get out of bed.” But Gabriella still pushed on.

The doctors eventually told her that she either needed to drop out of school or at a minimum, take a medical leave. The doctors feared that there was no way Gabriella could successfully focus on classes while continuing treatment to fight both AIDS and cancer. Gabriella refused to listen. She watched podcasted lectures, had professors come proctor midterms and finals in her room, and studied in between her chemotherapy sessions. And from this persistence, will power and sheer determination Gabriella did the impossible, she earned her UCLA degree in four years.

Gabriella plans to continue her support of AIDS events. She was a guest speaker at UCLA’s Dance Marathon which raises money for Pediatric AIDS. She praised the participants who danced 26 hours straight and said she was inspired by them. “You guys are the reason that makes me believe I can fight through this.” Gabriella also participated in an AIDS walk this year and her “Team Burrito” raised over $10,000. Gabriella says next year’s AIDS walk will include team shirts and buttons of her dog, Burrito.

Every day is unpredictable living with AIDS and cancer -- some days are good when she can get through her whole day of activities and plans, and on other days she physically is unable to get out of bed. She continues her weekly chemotherapy and experimental AIDS treatments.

Gabriella couldn’t be more thankful of the support she has received from UCLA, the UCLA Medical Center, faculty and student body. Gabriella is a UCLA graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and shares, “I’m an alumna for life.”

Gabriella is indeed a fighter and the UCLA Spirit Squad is proud to celebrate her as this month’s Battling Bruin.

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