Not even imminent brain surgery will keep Aimeé Green from taking part in Sacramento State’s Spring Commencement. In fact, she insisted on postponing the operation until after she graduates.
“I’ve worked so hard for this, to get to this point,” she says. “I want to walk at graduation.”
Green, a 24-year-old social work major, is due to cross the Golden 1 Center stage during the College of Health & Human Services ceremony at 8 a.m. Saturday, May 19. She will become the first person in her family to earn a degree. Two days later, on May 21, she’s scheduled to undergo surgery at UC Davis Medical Center to remove the tumor embedded in her brain tissue.
“Most people, when they’re found to have a brain tumor that requires surgery, would like the operation done as soon as possible,” says Dr. Fady Girgis, the neurosurgeon who will operate on Green. “Aimee, however, was willing to put aside the anxiety and risk that are associated with waiting in order to complete her studies.
"That requires a tremendous amount of courage and determination.”
Surgery is recommended, Girgis says, because the tumor is impeding the normal flow of fluid in the brain, which “can cause serious problems in the future.”
Green had no idea of the tumor’s existence until after she and her boyfriend, Gianni Westlake, were involved in a car crash in February. She calls the accident “a blessing.”
They were on Interstate 80 the afternoon of Feb. 20, returning home from an electronics store, when Westlake swerved to avoid colliding with another car and crashed into the freeway divider. The impact caused Green to bang her head on the passenger-side window, leaving her unconscious.
She was rushed by ambulance to the Medical Center, where she underwent precautionary brain-imaging tests. That’s when doctors discovered the tumor.
“It’s the size of an index finger, wrapped above my right ear,” Green says.
Green’s doctors wanted to operate a few days later, but she said no.
“She was informed that there is some risk in waiting, but if she wanted to finish her studies first, we would follow her closely in the meantime and schedule surgery as soon as she finished,” Girgis says.
So Green returned to Sac State for the final months of her senior year. She credits faculty in the Division of Social Work with helping her get to the finish line.
"Aimeé is showing a remarkable emotional strength,” says David Constante, one of her professors. “For such a young woman to hold her ground in the midst of a seemingly chaotic interruption of her life rhythms, it is impressive.”
Green grew up in Tracy. Her parents divorced when she was 3, and she and her siblings were raised by their grandparents. She hasn’t seen her father since she was 13 and is somewhat estranged from her mother and grandmother (her grandfather died a few years ago.) She said she will invite her family to Commencement.
Her main support, she says, is Westlake, her boyfriend of four years, and his family.
Green studied at Delta College in Stockton before transferring to Sac State in 2015. She chose social work as a major because of her childhood experiences.
“My brother and sister and I almost went into foster care before my grandparents took us in," she says. "If it wasn’t for them, we would’ve been put into the system and maybe been split up. Not everyone has family like my grandparents in their life, and I want to be that person for others.
“I’m so excited to be a social worker. I wanted to go out right away and start helping people.”
Green’s story has attracted widespread media interest. She’s done interviews with People and Women’s Health magazines, the online Good News Network, and Britain’s Daily Mail. She’s also chronicling her experiences in “Aimee’s Journey” on both Facebook and YouTube, and she set up a crowdfunding account to help with her medical expenses. – Dixie Reid