This blog is part of a series about young adults with cancer. You can read the first post here.
When you first start your freshman year of college, you're filled with hopes and expectations and excitement as you embark on the next great adventure of your life. People expect certain experiences from their first year of college--new friends, classes, parties, new experiences. Nobody expects a cancer diagnosis, and it wasn't a change that Haleigh Polk was expecting.
I know Haleigh mostly through my younger brothers. She went to school with them, graduated around the same time and went off to college at the same time. But that's where their stories diverge.
Just a few weeks after her 19th birthday, Haleigh started having trouble breathing. She went to her university doctor first, who then rushed her to the emergency room. There, she got a diagnosis she wasn't expecting--acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It was a lot to take in--she hadn't been in college that long and had been looking forward to her freshman year experiences. But Haleigh's attitude for the course of her treatment was set in those first few hours--she would face things with strength and determination. When told she would need a bone graft, she told the doctor that if he would just give her something to relax her, he could just go ahead and do it.
And when it came time to decide where she would get treatment, Haleigh and her parents moved her stuff out of her dorm room and returned home, a situation a lot of young adult cancer survivors face. Haleigh's currently going through the last of her chemo, and she continues to set goals for herself, but different goals than before, like going to the movies or out to eat. Simple things that can be taken for granted when you feel young and invincible--until you're not anymore. Now she's more appreciative, taking in and enjoying moments.
When her mother asked her about when she was first diagnosed and what she thought then as compared to now, Haleigh responded, "I'm a different person. I'm going to have a story. I'm going to have a story to talk about." And talk about it she does. She's already taken three young cancer patients under her wing. She writes them notes and brings in pictures of her wigs to alleviate their fears. She wants to help at a children's camp when she recovers. And although college is on hold for now, Haleigh wants to continue to give back and perhaps try nursing, even though she wanted to be a teacher before being diagnosed. Right now, Haleigh's focusing on finishing her treatment and being a young adult cancer advocate as doctors ask her to speak with newly diagnosed patients. And soon, when treatment ends, she will be finding her "new" normal; but her version of normal will be what she makes of it.