Arkansas Scout overcomes cancer to earn Eagle Scout Award

After crossing over from Pack 82 to Troop 99 in Benton, Ark., Nicholas Burrell was looking forward to many campouts, fishing trips and summer camp adventures. But before he could complete his first year in the older youth program, the 11-year-old went to see a doctor about the intense headaches he began having — and another doctor, and another and another.

Multiple scans and tests revealed the reason for the headaches: germinoma, a rare cancer in the brain and spine. He had tumors in three of the four major areas of his brain. It was recommended he start an aggressive radiation treatment — 26 rounds of radiation over six weeks.

This diagnosis could’ve easily disrupted everything in Nicholas’s life, but he wasn’t going to allow that.

“I see life in a different way,” Nicholas says. “I would rather live my best self in case something does come up. I’d rather be remembered for something good.”

He continued in Scouting, locked on to earning the Eagle Scout Award.

Cancer won’t stop him

Nicholas was homebound from school and unable to participate in Scouting like he used to. He worked on merit badges from home; he camped when he could.

“It was hard,” he says. “But I realized that I can’t let this stop me from reaching my goals.”

The only time he was forced to take a break was when he had to have a brain biopsy. Two surgeries have been required since his diagnosis. Today, the cancer is in remission. Still, he sustained permanent damage to his pituitary gland and will likely face longterm medical challenges. Again, he’s determined to not let it to slow him down.

“It made me stronger and a better person,” Nicholas says. “It impacted me in good ways.”

Because of his medical journey, he gravitated toward serving as his troop’s chaplain aide.

“It made me think why this would happen,” he says.

It also made him think how he could be a blessing to others, so when his pastor sent an email, stating a desire for a church food pantry called a “blessing box,” Nicholas volunteered, making it his Eagle Scout project. Access to the pantry is free for people in the community needing food.

At 14, Nicholas earned the Eagle Scout Award.

Not done yet

After earning the Eagle Scout rank, Nicholas doesn’t feel like his time in Troop 99 is done. He plans to stay until he’s 18, earning Eagle palms and mentoring other Scouts, helping them reach the Eagle Scout rank, too.

“The troop has been very supportive,” he says. “It’s been a journey, but it’s been an opportunity to show Scouts and others that something like this doesn’t stop you from reaching your goals.”

About Michael Freeman 150 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is associate editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.