When most students think about getting sick, it is probably from a hangover, the common cold or the flu. For some Texas Tech University students, getting sick meant battling for their lives against fatal illnesses.
According to I Care, I Cure, 13,500 children are diagnosed with cancer every year and most causes of childhood cancer are unknown.
Shelby Maxwell, a sophomore human development family studies major, said she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in November of 2011, when she was 17-years-old.
Maxwell said her initial reaction to hearing she had cancer was “Why me?” She said she was a senior in high school and had so many things going for her when everything changed in one day.
“When you hear the word ‘cancer,’ you instantly think of it as a death sentence,” Maxwell said. “I mean, I was scared. Hell, I was only 17.”
Living with cancer eventually became the new normal, Maxwell said.
“The treatment I had to get, and having a teacher come to me instead of going to school became a part of my normal routine,” she said.
But, she said there were times she would think she was going to die. Because the first month of chemo therapy treatment is so aggressive, it would make her extremely tired and weak.
Family and friends were very important to her throughout her battle, Maxwell said. Maxwell is so close with her younger sister that she was more worried about stressing her sibling out than her own health.
She said she did not want her illness to be a burden on her friends and family, and as a result, ended up pushing some friends away during her battle.
Finding ways to stay positive was essential to beating cancer, Maxwell said. She said she did this by writing in a journal, setting goals and making friends with patients and doctors in the hospital.
“It is nice to talk to someone who you can relate with,” Maxwell said. “One of my friends I met in the hospital and I would talk about how much we hated spinal taps, and not many other people can relate with that.”
Maxwell said she had a goal to walk the stage at her high school graduation. Two hours after getting out of the hospital she said she went right to her graduation and walked the stage. She said she was greeted by a full standing ovation by her friends and all of the students.
“Seeing people stand and cheer for you, a lot that you don’t even know, was special and really sweet,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell said her cancer went into remission in March of 2014. When she received the phone call saying she was cancer free, she said she could not help but start crying and think to herself that she beat it.
According to American Cancer Society, leukemia is the most common cancer in children and teens, accounting for almost 1 out of 3 diagnoses. The website also states that most childhood leukemias are acute lymphocytic leukemia.
Faith Henderson, a sophomore dance major, said she was diagnosed with leukemia at the early age of three.
When Henderson was bit by a spider, her mother, Jennifer Henderson, rushed her to the hospital fearing she was poisoned. The blood work brought back scarier results.
“Being a Christian woman, I believe it was an intervention from God that she got bit by that spider to make us go to the hospital,” Jennifer Henderson said. “If they wouldn’t have found the cancer and given her a blood transfusion that night, she would have died.”
Henderson said going through treatment was very difficult on her. She said it was tough watching her hair fall out, and gaining weight from steroids.
“When I was young, I was always a happy kid,” Henderson said. “When I got diagnosed it was really hard for me to stay that happy kid, especially because I did not know what was going on.”
Jennifer Henderson said it was tough taking care of Faith when she was sick, especially because she was doing it as a single parent. She said she the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society was a big help to her in staying positive, as well as having the right materials and education on the illness.
Jennifer Henderson said she wanted any parent who is struggling with a sick child to remember there are people who can help. She also said to not be afraid of help, and if people want to help you should let them.
Living in and out of a hospital for so long may have slowed down the development of her social skills, Henderson said.
Henderson said her cancer went into remission at the age of six, and she is still cancer free today. She feels like she now wants to make the most out her second chance at life.
Hunter Wagner, a junior business marketing major, said he was diagnosed with aplastic anemia November of 2014, his freshman year in college.
According to Leukemia CARE, aplastic anemia is not a form of cancer, but is closely associated with diseases like leukemia that affects bone marrow. The website states there are only 125 cases diagnosed per year and only 30 of them are children.
“Originally the doctors told me that I had leukemia,” Wagner said. “Then they went back and did some more test sand figured out it was a little bit deeper than that.”
Wagner said when he first found out about his illness, he also went through the “Why me?” stage. He said he wondered why all his friends were getting to live a normal college life and he had to go back home to go to the hospital.
Wagner said family and friends were the most important in helping him get over his illness. It is really easy to beat yourself up in your own thoughts, he said, and family and friends can help pull you out of it.
“You do not get told every day that you can die,” Wagner said. “I played football and thought I was tough, but something like this really shows how strong you are.”
Wagner said the friends he made at Texas Tech in his short time before getting sick were important to him. He said he had friends that he had only known for two months that had his back, compared to guys he had known for years.
Wagner said a special moment to him came when his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, made a trip to Houston where he is from to see him in the hospital and put him through initiation.
Taking dual credit classes in high school helped keep him from getting behind in his college courses, Wagner said. But, it did take some time for him to feel normal in a social setting.
Wagner said in May of 2015 he was finally free of aplastic anemia. He said he felt grateful, and like he had a huge weight pulled off of his shoulders.
“Once you realize that no one can help you beat you your disease but you, you kind of have to grab the bull by the horns and take it down,” Wagner said.