Wearing a Livestrong cap to cover incision scars following brain surgery in the 10th grade, Andrew Fierstein joked to his guidance counselor that doctors "took out the smart parts."
Two years later, it's safe to say his intellect is intact. Fierstein has been named salutatorian of his class despite a 13-year battle with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.
Since the age of 5, Fierstein has endured multiple brain surgeries, rib and lung removals and a limb-sparing surgery to his right arm. Today, he has a catheter in his skull and is undergoing treatment using an experimental drug.
"We'd try to arrange my chemotherapy so I wouldn't miss many classes," said Fierstein, 18, who estimated he has missed up to a month of school at some points due to medical procedures. "I didn't want people to feel sorry for me. A negative attitude is never an option."
Over the past eight years, Fierstein, of Old Brookville, has helped raise roughly a quarter-million dollars -- including $60,000 in a recent event at his high school -- through Relay for Life to benefit the American Cancer Society. Last year, his team's total of $42,000 was tops in Nassau County and the second highest in the state, he said.
In addition, Fierstein, who is school treasurer and president of the National Honor Society, was one of 50 teens nationwide this year to receive a $20,000 college scholarship from the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation.
"He is just so likable; possibly the nicest, most gracious kid in the solar system," said his guidance counselor, Timothy Shea. "If angels walk among us, Andrew is one."
HIGHER ED: Fierstein will attend Hofstra University and will study health science in an eight-year BS-BA/MD program.
AT COLLEGE, I'M MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO: "Challenging myself with classes I've never taken, or have taken at a lower level, and having new people to interact with."
What makes you extraordinary
"With everything I've faced, I've tried to keep a positive attitude and never be like 'Why me?' I hope I've inspired other people to be strong. No obstacle is insurmountable."