STATE COLLEGE — When it comes to battling an illness, it's often said that a great attitude is a big part of the fight.
If that truly is the case, Brandi Weaver-Gates will win her battle with ease.
In March 2013, Weaver-Gates, 23, was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Since that time, she hasn't let the disease slow her down. In fact, she's doing more than ever before and accomplishing great things.
Weaver-Gates recently added to an already impressive resume when she was crowned as Miss PA U.S. International in Allentown.
“I was in shock. I think I'm still in shock. I'll think, 'Oh my gosh, I'm one of the Miss Pennsylvanias,'” Weaver-Gates said. “There are four main pageants in the world. It's been an amazing experience.”
Weaver-Gates has already begun preparing for the next step, the Miss U.S. International Pageant, which will be held on Thursday, June 25, at the International Palms Resort in Orlando, Fla.
However, between now and then, Weaver-Gates has a lot of preparation — and work — to do.
“As soon as I won, I went into work mode. I know we have to do 12 appearances. I started thinking, 'I can do this one, this one and this one.' It just went from there,” Weaver-Gates said.
Over the next couple of months, Weaver-Gates will be representing Pennsylvania. Needless to say, she's excited.
“Being able to get out on a larger scale and be an inspiration to others … that's what I am most excited about. I'll have a lot more opportunities to make a difference,” she said.
Being crowned Miss Pennsylvania U.S. International simply adds to Weaver-Gates already busy life. She works two jobs — one at Strawberry Fields and one as a cheerleading instructor. She also volunteers her time and has a strong devotion to her faith.
Weaver-Gates likes to be busy. Some might even say she thrives off it.
Being busy is nothing new, she said.
“I learned at a young age how to balance things. In school, I wanted to try everything. My junior year, between school and community, I was in 21 different activities. I had a lot going on. I learned how to balance schoolwork and activities. But I also learned that you can't say yes to everybody,” Weaver-Gates said.
In the midst of everything — pageants, work and the like — Weaver-Gates has a real battle on her hands. She's still battling the leukemia. She recently underwent a series of chemotherapy treatments at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Overall, she said she feels good.
“I get tired a lot easier. I've always been a go, go, go type of person. But other than being tired, I'm doing OK. I'm still going through treatment. I've had two treatments so far. I have four more to go,” Weaver-Gates explained.
In August, she will have a mutated protein treatment. That's when a protein is injected to attack the cancer cells instead of all of the cells, which is what chemotherapy does.
Throughout her treatments, Weaver-Gates has relied heavily on friends and family. In April, they held a “Bingo for Brandi” fundraiser, which raised money to help with medical bills and other expenses.
“It was amazing. I didn't know half of the people there. It really did surprise me,” an emotional Weaver-Gates said. “It speaks to how great our community is. They wanted to come and support someone who is going through a hard time in their life.”
Weaver-Gates grew up in Milesburg and graduated from Bald Eagle Area High School. She's extremely close with her parents. Telling them she was sick was one of the most difficult things she's ever had to do, she said.
“I know that's a parent's worst fear, possibly losing a child. That was the hardest part, making my parents go through this. I mean, I know I'm not making them, but that's how it feels,” Weaver-Gates said.
When she's not working or making appearances as Miss PA U.S. International, she likes to get in touch with nature.
She said she spends a lot of time at camp.
“I love to ride four-wheelers,” Weaver-Gates said. “I know it sounds strange, but my goal is to get the dustiest or the muddiest. I just love getting dirty out there.”
Whether she's competing in a pageant or riding a four-wheeler, Weaver-Gates goes all out. She lives life to the fullest. That's just something she's always done, she said.
She also believes in service.
“When I was about 10 years old, I decided that I really wanted to make a difference in others' lives and make a big difference in the world,” she said.
Her illness hasn't changed things, she said.
“It really puts things into perspective. It makes you think … you really need to do what you want to do now because you don't know what's next,” Weaver-Gates said. “I like to think this has been an inspiration to other people. Even though it's a struggle, it's a blessing because it has made a difference in my life and in other people's lives.”