Seattle, WA (KCPQ) - A young cancer survivor defies the odds to battle his disease and his coursework, graduating top of his class at a Washington high school.
It's the time of their lives for high school seniors. Graduation is the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.
"When I found out I was valedictorian, I was really surprised," said Mikael Perla.
Mikael Perla will graduate at the top of his class from Ballard High School, but it hasn't always been easy.
"Even though I was diagnosed with cancer, I never thought that I wouldn't be graduating. It just never occurred to me," he said.
It was during his freshman year when doctors diagnosed Mikael with a rare form of cancer, acute lymphocytic leukemia.
"Some days I'd get up and take a shower and then throw up in the shower and still have to force myself to go to school," he said.
Mikael had to undergo intense chemotherapy. The treatments made him tired and nauseated and took away his strength and his hair.
"Losing my hair was pretty hard for me, 'cause it was the one thing that kept me normal, and when it was gone, it really hit me that I had cancer," Mikael said.
The treatments forced Mikael to leave the classroom and continue his education from home. His parents say somehow he found the strength to get through.
"Ever since he was born, he's had challenges," said Juan Perla, Mikael's father.
Juan and Sally Perla say along with being ill, their son is dyslexic; while being treated, he developed a chemo-induced form of diabetes.
"He just was like, 'Well, this is what life gave me. I'm just going to keep going.' And you have to make the choice to do that, and he did," said Sally Perla.
The last few weeks have been filled with a senior prom, award ceremonies, and now graduation.
"It's exciting: putting the cancer behind me and looking to the future," Mikael said.
A future that is sure to be bright.
"I believe that if there's a will, there's a way, and I definitely have the will," he said.
Inspired by all the hours Mikael Perla spent in the hospital, he will start studying pre-med at the University of Washington next year.