MEDINA, Oho – For Cedarville junior business student Summer Gray, a surprise medical diagnosis led to an unexpected opportunity to serve as an honorary hero for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
In October 2021, Gray began having difficulty swallowing. After a series of blood tests and doctor’s appointments over the winter break, he knew something was wrong. Two days after returning to campus for the spring semester, Gray received the results of his ultrasound: He had a large mass behind his thyroid and needed an emergency CT scan, a designation generally reserved for life-threatening or highly critical masses. suspicious.
“I got the call while I was in my macroeconomics class,” Gray said. “I remember being told that I had a mass wrapped around my left carotid artery and brachycephalic artery and that they wanted to do a biopsy. I started sobbing in the hallway and passed out for the rest of the phone call.”
After returning home for the procedure, Gray was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.
“I think he subconsciously knew it was cancer even before the call came in,” said Gray, of Medina, Ohio. “I have a family history of lymphoma, so I think I had been mentally preparing myself for the worst.”
Hodgkin’s lymphoma, although aggressive, is usually responsive to chemotherapy treatments. Gray was scheduled for two full rounds of chemotherapy, each consisting of two one-day treatments two weeks apart. But before he could begin treating his cancer, he had to deal with a series of other medical procedures, including the difficult decision to seek IVF to freeze some of his eggs.
Throughout the spring semester, Gray continued to take classes online, but struggled due to the physical and mental toll of chemotherapy.
“My teachers were very helpful and understanding,” Gray said. “But chemotherapy took a lot out of me. I had bone pain, cognitive loss, fatigue, migraines, and constant nausea. As well as the emotional strain of having to make decisions about my treatment that will suddenly change my life.”
But throughout the entire process, there were moments of encouragement. The day of her port surgery, one of the nurses quoted Scripture to her.
“He quoted Philippians 4:6: Do not be anxious about anything, but present your petitions to God with all prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving,” Gray said. “That verse is also in my favorite musical, ‘Come from Away,’ and when I mentioned that she played the soundtrack during surgery. So while the doctor was putting my port, I was singing the musical with the nurses. It was just a little encouragement to remind me that God is still sovereign.”
Another heartwarming moment happened at Rhodes High School, Cleveland, where Gray’s father works as an IEP teacher. After mentioning Gray’s CT scan to a colleague, the school started a fundraising campaign for Gray’s medical expenses. Teachers and students wore purple t-shirts with the slogan “#SummerStrong” and lockers decorated with signs.
“Some of the students decorated lockers and signs with Isaiah 43:2: When you cross deep waters, I will be with you,” Gray said. “That was the verse I leaned on during my treatments as a reminder that even when I couldn’t see the big picture, God didn’t abandon me. That verse was a reminder to me that God was still in control.”
However, the experience also brought doubts and difficulties.
“I was thankful for the treatment and thankful for the fundraiser, but it was hard not to feel mad at God,” Gray said. “I didn’t know, and still don’t know, his plan to allow me to have cancer. But I do know that even when I didn’t think I was in a relationship with him, even when I felt angry and confused, I still had a plan. I’m not strong, but he is.”
After months of treatment, Gray was declared in remission on May 6, but her journey was far from over. Gray was part of a clinical trial testing a new immunotherapy drug through the Cleveland Clinic, which required two additional rounds of chemotherapy and additional immunotherapy treatments. During those final months, Gray began to reflect on the experience.
“I think I didn’t fully process the fear that I had throughout the process until I was put in remission,” Gray reflected. “Fighting cancer was scary. I could have died. I was recovering from chemotherapy on my 20th birthday. I spent Valentine’s Day at a fertility clinic. I woke up with hair on my pillow and was afraid to wash my hair and see how much I had lost.
Although the experience was difficult, Gray now has a unique story and the opportunity to share it. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a national charity, selected Gray as its honorary hero for the Cleveland area. She will attend fundraisers, share her story with student volunteers at the Taussig Cancer Center and speak at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland on March 18. For Gray, her role allows her to engage in a subject that is now close to her. her heart and using the hardship of the past year to help others going through cancer treatment, while also raising awareness of how cancer affects people going through treatment.
“Although I am still recovering from the experience, it provided me with a way to help others,” Gray said. “This role is something I never expected, but it gives me the opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives, and it’s heartening to see something good come out of something so bad.”
Located in southwestern Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered Baptist institution with an enrollment of 5,082 dual-enrolled undergraduate, graduate, and high school students in more than 175 areas of study. For more information about the University, visit www.cedarville.edu.