Student battles cancer, vows to help others win fight

  Friday, February 6, 2015 2:00 AM

Pittsburg, KS

Student battles cancer, vows to help others win fight

Alisha Fagg had always dreamed of a career in the medical field. Initially, she thought it was to be pharmacy.

“I always thought being a pharmacist was my passion,” said the Garnett native and junior at Pittsburg State. “I went to the University of Kansas to start the degree, but then I realized it wasn’t what I wanted.”

Now at Pitt State, Fagg is majoring in bio-medical technology. Her dream job is to work at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. She wants to dedicate her career to helping those who are battling that terrible disease.

“It would mean so much to me to work with and help those people, especially since I can relate to what they’re going through,” she said.

‘Scariest thing that ever happened to me’

It was the fall of 2013. Fagg was 20 years old and she was settling into life as a Gorilla after transferring from KU. She was young, bright, hopeful and busy, but she also didn’t feel well.

“My stomach was upset, and I started having chest pains,” Fagg said. “The doctors said there were signs of some autoimmune problems, and I started getting nervous. Then the news got worse.”

She had thyroid cancer.

“When you’re 20 years old, you don’t expect to be told you have cancer,” Fagg said. “It was the scariest thing that ever happened to me.”

The doctors assured her that the cancer was treatable. It was not, as Fagg said, a “death sentence.” 

“That provided a little peace of mind,” she said, “but it’s still cancer.”

Fagg, who wanted to be focusing on her studies and her involvement with PSU’s Enactus group, was instead focusing on radiation treatments and trying not to worry too much.

More good news came. The radiation was working -- they thought.

“The cancer came back,” Fagg said. “The doctors said the radiation was not strong enough.”

She tried to keep her mind on school and family and friends. She tried to keep busy and not let the cancer weigh on her mind.

“Being sick wasn’t the only thing I had going on,” she said.

Her role as the vice president of finance for Enactus occupied her thoughts and time. Her homework helped. Her family helped.

“My Aunt Janet (Lewis) is an adjunct professor in the art department here, and I’ve leaned on her a lot during all of this,” Fagg said.

Lewis described herself and her niece as “kindred spirits” and said, “Alisha always knows she can come to me with anything.”

“The cancer diagnosis weighed on Alisha quite heavily, as it would with anyone,” Lewis said. “When you’re that young, it’s especially hard. But that doesn’t mean we have to talk about it all the time. Some of the best moments are when Alisha will say she just wants to grab coffee or see a movie or take a drive.

“She’s very good about expressing when she needs a break from that world of dealing with her illness,” Lewis said.

One particular break to which Fagg looked forward was winter break during the holidays. It meant time with family and friends. It meant returning to her hometown of Garnett. It meant joy and peace and cheer.

“Being around family helps a lot, even though I know we’re all thinking about this at some point,” she said. “We know it’s treatable, and we know we shouldn’t expect the worse. At the same time, though, you don’t know. With cancer, you never really feel like you know.”

‘Done worrying’

After the holidays, Fagg and her family knew they had to face cancer issue head on. On Jan. 8, she went in for a full-body scan to see if the additional rounds of treatment were working as well as the doctors hoped.

“It came back negative,” Fagg said. “This means that there were no masses found in my body and that there are only microscopic cancer cells present.”

The doctors told her she would still need radiation to fight the remaining cancer cells, but the absence of masses meant surgery was not necessary.

“Radiation is a walk in the park compared to surgery,” Fagg said.

Fagg said she expects to undergo the treatment this month.

“Then I can be done worrying about this again until my cancer check next year,” she said.

‘Not the same person’

Fagg said that having cancer changed her.

“It’s not as if I’m glad it happened, but it definitely brought me closer to my family and other people I truly care about,” she said. “It makes you focus more on what is really important in your life. It’s almost like a slap in the face, but in a good way.

"I'm not the same person I was before having cancer," she said. "I've grown, and I look at life in a whole new way."

Of the many positive effects of her ordeal, Fagg said she takes her chosen career path even more seriously.

“I would have gone into the medical field anyway,” she said, “but having cancer while in college and thinking about the professionals who have helped me along makes you understand how important this field really is.

“I’m not sure where I’d be right now if not for the doctors and nurses and everyone who helped treat my cancer,” she said. “I’m excited for the chance to join them and help others win their battles.”



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