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Cancer snuck up on me when I was just 17 years old, right at the start of my college career.

I was young, full of life and dreams, looking forward to my future. Suddenly, everything changed with the news: I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease stage 2.

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When you hear those words, time stops, and they are the only words you can hear, over and over again.

It's a repetitive sound from which you can't seem to escape — a sound that blocks off everything else for a while.

You can only think about the word "cancer" and how you can't believe it's happening to you.

After the initial shock and looking at the devastating expression of my parents' faces, I tried to wake up from the nightmare and start listening to what my options were.

At 17 years old, you don't really know that much about cancer, other than it is scary and sometimes a terminal illness.

I had to stop the doctor while he was talking. I was trying to get out of the shock. I had to let him know that I didn't listen to all of his words after he said "cancer."

He looked at me, his eyes filled with empathy and honesty. He told me he completely understood my surprise; he said he could only imagine the million questions going through my mind.

Armed with bravery, I nodded and continued to ask my questions.

He patiently explained everything again, from what Hodgkin's disease is to what my options were. The options were not great to hear — all involved getting chemo and radiotherapies — and we all know the horrible side effects that come with those treatments, but they were my only chance at life, so I accepted the challenge.

I thought: "I am only 17 years old. What do I have to lose by trying?"

We then met with the oncologist who was going to design and schedule my treatments. He was the nicest guy in the world. Knowing I was scared to death — and definitely sad, too — he approached me with the friendliest attitude a doctor ever could. He was patient, caring and encouraging. His name was Angel, and that is exactly what he was to me.

I started treatments on the day I turned 18. I went through more than six months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

I lost a lot of weight, my skin was pale and burned from the radiation and I lost all my hair. I was always nauseous and really tired after the treatments, so I only wanted to go to bed and try to rest. As soon as anyone looked at me, they could tell I was sick — my body, my skin and my eyes reflected it. My immune system was hit hard by all of the treatments and lost its ability to fight infections.

For the whole time I was undergoing the treatments, I had to receive daily shots of a medication to help my immune system. The shots were painful, but I think they were more painful for my father to watch.

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Cancer is a life-changing experience, both for those diagnosed with it and their families. Some lucky ones make it out of it and some give their best battle until their body can't take it anymore. But either way, cancer comes along with many lessons. When I was diagnosed, I was mad at cancer because I could not believe what was happening to me. Looking back, I thank cancer not for showing up and disrupting my teenage years, but for all the things I discovered about myself while battling with it.

To cancer, I say this: I learned that you give a tough battle, but I can give a tougher one.

I learned that you can be scary, but my willingness and determination should scare you.

I learned that I am my biggest fan. I learned that if you put your mind to it, if you really believe it, you can overcome obstacles.

I learned that sometimes you have to put on your game face to encourage not yourself, but others.

I learned that I am a lot stronger than I ever knew.

I learned that my mind has to work as a team with my body to face challenges like the one you made me go through.

I learned that it is OK to take a moment and cry, then dry your tears and come back stronger than before.

I learned that it is OK to feel scared, but what is not OK is letting the fear stop you from facing whatever life throws your way.

I learned that on our darkest moments, we are our own light.

I learned so many lessons from cancer — not all of them will ever fit in this column — and I am still uncovering lessons as I continue to live. When we were finally done with treatments, I was able to say, "Dear cancer, I don't really want to see you again, but thank you for all the lessons." You made me a bigger, stronger person.

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