Students stay positive while fighting cancer
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2013 13:01
The word cancer can strike fear into the heart of anyone, and in some people’s minds, cancer is synonymous with a death sentence. Some students on campus are fighting the disease every day, and focusing on school to feel like everything is normal.
Meghan Peterson, a senior studying exercise science, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer on April 1, 2011. Peterson was at a doctor’s appointment when her doctor began to suspect cancer in her thyroid.
“The doctor just didn’t feel right about it,” Peterson said. “They did a biopsy and an ultrasound. I had five lumps in there that were golf-ball sized, but they didn’t find those until the surgery, and they were hidden, like they probably shouldn’t have been found.”
Peterson completed a round of radiation and had to be quarantined from all people for a week because of the chemicals in her body. They killed the cancer cells but posed a danger to other people, Peterson said.
“So I was super lucky that it was just a small treatment, but luckily chemotherapy isn’t necessary for my kind of cancer and it killed the cancer cells the first round,” Peterson said. “It could always relapse, but I was extremely blessed.”
Kit Johnson was diagnosed with melanoma when he was 13 years old.
“The next day I went to school and I didn’t want to tell anyone,” Johnson said. “I didn’t really remember anything I learned. I just kind of walked around school taking mental pictures of things that I liked. My friends could kind of tell something wasn’t right.”
Then came a number of tests and doctor appointments at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City. He had surgery to remove the melanoma from his neck, followed by a year of chemotherapy treatment with three injections every week.
“This boosted my immune system to look for stray cancer cells and things like that,” Johnson said. “Since my immune system was busy doing other things, I didn’t have the best kind of health.”
Johnson said he had to miss large portions of junior high and high school due to treatment and doctor’s appointments. His cancer returned while serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ireland and Scotland.
“At first I just wrote it off a little bit, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” he said. “I thought it was just greenie stuff. I got through my training and I started training a missionary right after me. I really wasn’t feeling good and I wanted to be an example for that missionary, so I decided to push myself.”
After a few hospital trips and an MRI, Johnson found out the cancer had returned. Johnson had to put off going to school to do treatment that included removing a tumor from his lung and an adrenal gland, as well as a round of treatment with a tumor-shrinking drug before it could be removed.
With his last round of treatment last week, Johnson is looking forward to snowboarding and returning to school in the fall. He wants to major in economics.
“My friends are in school and they look like they’re having a good time,” he said. “They would want me to be with them, but unfortunately I’m not able to do that yet.”
“This whole time I’ve had a purpose, but I haven’t had control over it,” he said. “I can come to school and get good grades. I have control over that. I’m excited to have some control and structure in my life.”
USU’s Disability Resource Center works with students who have cancer, helping them get schoolwork when they can’t come to class because of treatment or appointments and working with teachers to give exams when students are ready, according to Christine Lord, a learning disabilities specialist.
One student could not attend class due to a weak immune system. The Disability Resource Center was able to connect her to the class through video, much like Skyping, Lord said.
“Most of the students with cancer I’ve worked with are hard workers,” she said. “They don’t use their cancer as an excuse. They are dedicated students and they are here to get an education just like everybody else.”
Peterson had to finish a month of school and finals after she was diagnosed. Her teachers were willing to send her slides to study and offered to let her take exams when she was ready, she said. One teacher encouraged her to finish a class rather than take an incomplete.
“It was rough, it was definitely the lowest grades I’ve had, but they’re my favorite grades because I had to work that much harder,” she said.