How it Feels… to be Diagnosed with Cancer


Story by Brianna Childers

In spring 2017, University of Kansas student Brianna Miller, a senior from Mission Viejo, California, found out she had cancer. This is how it felt.

The day I found out I had cancer, my doctor called me an hour before my American Lit final. It was May 12. I had been having swollen lymph nodes for five months at that point.

My biopsy, which my doctor at Lawrence Memorial Hospital had sent to Mayo Clinic, showed I had stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The doctors wanted to get a second opinion but there was a 75 percent chance it was cancer.

I quickly texted my parents and went to go take my final. The day the doctor called a week and a half later to confirm that I had cancer I was nannying. I called my mom right after because she had already been making plans with an oncologist just in case. It didn’t really hit me for quite a while.

I had been researching Hodgkin’s and found out that a lot of times, it’s a very quick treatment and 95 percent of the patients, within the first two rounds of chemo, go into remission. In my mind, I thought “that’s not bad.’’ It’s easy to think on the better side of things when you haven’t hit the reality of it yet.

But then we went out to The Hawk that night. It was dollar night and I just got so drunk. We went back to my friend Claire’s apartment and I cried for the longest time, mostly about losing my hair.

I flew back to California three days later and I didn’t come back to school until spring semester of 2018. My first day of chemo was June 22, two days before my 21st birthday.

A lot of people don’t know things about cancer other than it’s a terrible disease. When you think terrible, you think there’s gotta be something that tells you that you have it. All I had were lymph nodes in my throat that were swollen, so I thought maybe it was a thyroid problem because I felt perfectly fine.

They popped up overnight, one on each side of my throat over my collar bone. They were the size of ping pong balls. I also had a tumor in my chest that was 10 centimeters long, which is more than a third of the size of my chest.  That means it had been growing for at least a year for it to get that big.

I had no idea, which is funny, because when you have a cold, you feel like you’re dying but you have cancer and you feel perfectly fine.

My last day of treatment was November 21. There is a 30 percent chance the cancer will reoccur. There is a chance I’ll develop breast cancer or heart disease because of chemo. There is a chance I’ll get thyroid cancer or have thyroid problems because of chemo.

I used to be a people pleaser, but after getting a cancer diagnosis, you think “shit, I need to change things around and do things that are for me.”.  The rest of my life I’ll be living with “well it could come back” or “I could get secondary cancer” so you really have to learn to live every day as your last. People say that, but it’s true for cancer patients.