NSights Blog

Dear Class of 2020, I can relate

From an alum whose senior year was disrupted by cancer

I itched my senior year. All over. Constantly. It was embarrassing and torture, and no one knew why. Several months, several consultations with specialists and one late-night Google search later, I left class to take a call from my doctor.

Google was right. I had cancer.

A first-generation student, I decided in that hallway moment I would realize this dream; I would graduate even if it killed me. I returned to class.

“What’s so important,” my professor asked, “that you would leave during lecture?”

I delivered my diagnosis to a classroom as quiet as death. After, everyone in it and the campus community, too, including the Disability Resource Center and Parking Services, like family, helped me through it all.

I started chemo. I started to lose my hair. It felt shameful. Every hair that touched my skin as it fell felt like the crawling of a spider or a fly.

I lost it.

I shaved my head.

I got a blood clot in my neck. I wrote University of Nevada, Reno Extension articles for the local paper tethered to a pole of poison. I was the Most Outstanding Senior for the College of Business. University event photographer Theresa Dana helped me choose which wig to wear.

I finished chemo. I practiced the commencement walk with University accessibility experts, terrified my chemo-damaged appendages would let me down.

I graduated. With wisps of hair barely there, fuzzy like a duck, I made it, the first one in my family, the one who conquered cancer.

While still healing and with Graduate Record Exam study help from the McNair Scholars Program, I went on to earn my master’s degree from the Reynolds School of Journalism and a promotion in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources.

But the journey wasn’t all sunshine. From the moment I steeled myself in the hallway after my over-the-phone diagnosis and made that surreal walk back to class, I missed things.

I missed the decorations on my door that were replaced with handwashing posters to help visitors keep me healthy. I missed being able to leave my house. I missed my friends. I missed making memories, such as taking senior photos on the quad.

I missed feeling normal.

Four years later, I’m typing from isolation again, and my heart goes out to you, Class of 2020. I know how it feels to have your senior year upended and have the side effects come crashing down on you.

I know how desperately you search for campus resources and how helpful campus strangers become your family.

I know the fear, exhaustion and loneliness you feel and how hard you push yourself to function despite overwhelm. I know the blood, sweat and tears you put into graduating.

I know the toll your perseverance takes and how hard it is to appreciate through your weariness that you’ve realized your dreams. I know how unreal it feels to recognize your achievements when there are reasons not to celebrate.

I know how it feels to mourn lasts that were lost, such as your last semester, last day on campus and last moments with friends. I know what it’s like to miss those moments. 

Mourning with you, Class of 2020, I realize it’s not all storms either. Our senior years make quite the stories. We have families that don’t end with blood. Our accomplishments are still meaningful and recognized and will take us far. And our campus is still here.

When we graduate from quarantine, let’s visit her. Let’s get a cup of coffee at the Joe and take a selfie in front of the Knowledge Center. Let’s enjoy the arboretum and memorial garden and remember ourselves to Mackay.

Let’s pay one last visit to Morrill Hall, our University’s first, and there take those once-missed senior photos.

Those moments we thought we’d missed? Let’s make them, once we can.

Ashley Andrews
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