Family: Amazing parents Mark and Jill; twin brothers Reed and Ryan, 23.
'I'll be surviving every day of my life'
I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in December of 2003 at the age of 22. I spent the spring of the next year bald and sick - and occasionally working - but mostly waiting for it all to be over. I spent my 23rd birthday in a hospital having a double mastectomy. And I spent the summer having radiation everyday. And then, on the same day that I had my last radiation session in September 2004, I proclaimed my status as a survivor, said the cancer was gone, and delivered the keynote speech at In the Pink in Amarillo.
Fast forward a year, I finally came back to Lubbock to start law school. I'd deferred my admission twice and couldn't wait to get back to school. They made it crystal clear during orientation that law school was unlike any other academic experience, and the old rules of bringing a doctorís note wouldn't excuse you from your responsibility to be in the classroom each and every day. Youíre allowed only a small number of absences, no matter the reason, and once you have missed too many classes, youíre no longer eligible to receive credit for the course.
But no sooner than I'd finished my first day of orientation, Dr. Shalaby delivered the news that the cancer was not gone and had metastasized to my liver. My parents and I flew to Dallas the very first week of law school to meet with my doctors there, and Iíd have to go back in a few weeks for a surgery to try and remove the tumors.
The very worst part of the second diagnosis was not that I had cancer - I'd long ago come to terms with that - the worst part was that I was going to have to go through it all again and I wasn't going to get to go to law school. I was devastated. I prayed so hard for the Lord to help me know what to do -- I'd been here before and Iíd known that putting everything else aside to focus on treatment was the right thing to do, but I couldnít believe that it was happening again and that everything was going to yield to cancer treatment again.
I prayed and prayed and I waited patiently for the right words to come. And when they did, the first emails I sent were to my professors, explaining my situation the best I could and asking for permission to stay in their classes despite the fact that I would miss the maximum number of classes allowed in only the first weeks of school. Instantly, I was met with amazing responses, assuring me that I would be allowed to stay enrolled no matter how much I had to miss. Then I talked to Dr. Shalaby and his staff and gave them my class schedule to see what they could do ñ and they have been scheduling my treatments around my classes ever since.
In hindsight, I say "well of course they let me stay in class, I have cancer" - but then I was so afraid because it seemed like I was asking for a pretty large exception, and asking for special treatment wasn't something I liked doing. Iíd wanted so badly to go to school and be like everyone else, and I had to immediately single myself out. But in a time when I was so sad, so scared, and so hopeless, it was revealed to me that my life on this earth is so blessed because I am surrounded by compassionate, understanding, and supportive people - and having cancer is nothing I should ever feel I need to hide.