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Starting college as a survivor

Posts: 7
Joined: Oct 2012

I was diagnosed with stage 4B nodular Hodgkin's lymphoma at 17, this January. I was in my final semseter of highschool. I finished 6 rounds of chemo and 14 radiation treatments;two weeks after finishing radiation, and 3 days after my port removal surgery, I started my freshman year of college, but its really tough. I get tired walking, and can't concnetrate because of chemobrain. Also, i'm having a really hard time making friends, as I feel I can't relate to anyone here. They all take life as a joke...ANy advice/encouragement about starting college?

Phoenix10's picture
Posts: 47
Joined: Dec 2009

Wow, are you living my past? I was 2B at 17 and am now a very proud BFA grad. Your story is soooo similar to mine.

I can tell you to take it slow and don't rush it. You'll get your strength back in time and there's plenty of time to take on more classes. I started with only 2 classes my first semester. It was hard for me to make new friends too. I looked weak and was...let alone the battle that I had just fought.

I held on tight to my HS friends, filled my off days with outings be it shopping, museums or whatever to get out. The real key is to find out what you love and get out there and live!

And don't let friends hold you back. After my chemo, I started to limp (side effect) and my toooo conservative doc had me walking with crutches (3 yrs!)to keep weight off the joints. This made it even harder to make new friends. One month after I did away with them, I met my husband and now we've been married 15 yrs.

Live life to the fullest and get out there....be it having fun, volunteering or working part-time.
And stop and smell the roses.

...don't forget to update us here. :-)

Posts: 7
Joined: Oct 2012

Thanks so much! I had to drop a class, but school has become a lot less stressful since. I've joined the student chapter of the American Cancer Society, and am looking to get involved with Relay for Life and Night Walk. I'm in engineering, with a focus on making medical devices. It's still pretty hard getting to the different classes, and keeping up with everyone. Thanks for your encouragement. I haven't met any other college age cancer survivors, so it's still pretty lonely. I'm trying to get hooked up with a teen support group or something, but haven't yet.

Thanks again!

spacefrogg5's picture
Posts: 11
Joined: Sep 2012

Hi B,

I had kind of the same problem, I was going to college and on a sports scholarship. I was diagnosed my first year of college and had to go through surgery and chemo.  Man I completely know how you feel.  I had to stuggle the first few days going to class and stuggling to change into my practice clothes and trying to train with the team. 

However, what it did for me was build an incredible mental toughness and resilience.  Many people went to college to learn, I did the same, but my main focus was to play ball.  I began semi regular practice with every other player and eventually regular practice and pushed day in and day out. I went to class to regardless of physical pain unless it was an incredible amount. 

I'm sure you're going through the same thing, trying to sit at a desk trying to focus and doing whatever you can to block out the physical discomfort. 

As for friends, I had the best friends anyone could ask for.  You will realize that college friends are much more reliable than high school friends.  As for dating, a lot of the girls I went out with were really down to earth and very loving girls.

This is what I have to say, everyone has a mountain to climb, mine is cancer, you stand in front of it with no climbing ropes, its not there to stop you, but there to see how bad you want to acheive the goals you set out to acheive. 

you want to be an engineer?  get your butt in gear and go after it with all the issues you have and you will be distinguished from all other students.  then you can get your engineering ring for the special tap. <-- you'll find out what this is on graduation

Good luck and kick some *** b.

Samistans's picture
Posts: 1
Joined: Feb 2014

I can't believe so many people have gone through the same thing so similarly. I had cancer at 18 right before college and got my port out a month before I left. I had a very hard time relating to everyone. I became bitter because everyone made life look so easy and I just went through hell. You have to push through. getting acclimated to the well world is harder than people think. I'm still working on it and I'm 9 years out. 

Posts: 7
Joined: Oct 2012

Thanks so much for your post.  I think I'd better change my username though...right after my first semester (which I completed with a 3.8) I was diagnosed with a relapse of Hodgkins.  I spent Christmas break in the hospital with scans, surgery, chemo etc.  I've dropped out this semester, just taking one class online.  I've found who are my true friends I guess, by those who have remained supportive.  

Thank you for sharing your story.  It's nice to know there ARE others who've endured college after cancer.  Thanks for your encouragement as well.   

closschumacher's picture
Posts: 4
Joined: Oct 2013

I was diagnosed with my tumor at 18, 3 weeks after high school graduation, and had it removed the end of my first semester of college. Almost 4 years later now, i have a BA and a MEd! If you need anything, please reach out.



bluesmasterelf's picture
Posts: 4
Joined: Nov 2013


I know the OP is probably a non-issue at this point. But for posterity, I went through six months of chemo while working on my masters. I had a lot of trouble forgetting that I couldn't make it the two flights from the class I taught to my office. I ate (sometimes), slept (sometimes) and did school work. Quite literally, nothing else. Well, I failed to learn bridge on Sundays. 

Otherwise, making friends in college is harder than in highschool by the nature of things. Not everyone is forced into as small a space for the same length of time so insta-friends all but vanish. It becomes a point of finding like minds and good haunts; something that defintely doesn't happen during treatment or shortly after. 

Best of luck to the college age folks. 



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