Choosing to Live

Devin Duncan, a Langham Creek High School alumna, shares the life lessons she learned while battling cancer…twice

Written by Devin Duncan | Select Photography courtesy of Devin Duncan

CFM_W_14_My Story_Devin Duncan_Photo by Impressions by Leslie (4)

At first glance, I look like a typical 21-year-old college student. I’m a senior public relations major at the University of Texas at Austin, a member of the Public Relations Student Society of America, an account executive in Texas Tower PR, and a member of the UT Communication Council. I drink way too much coffee, don’t sleep nearly as much as I should, and attend far more concerts than my bank account allows. It isn’t my present that makes me different, but my past. I may be “normal” in every sense of the word, but I’m also a two time cancer survivor.

My First Diagnosis
I was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996 when I was 3 years old and underwent two-and-a-half years of vigorous chemotherapy at Texas Children’s Hospital. When I finished my treatment, I had a Mickey Mouse-themed celebration, ate a lot of cake, and began the process of blocking out that part of my life. Thirteen years later and still in remission, the thought of cancer was so far in the back of my mind that I rarely even talked about it. I was a 17-year-old junior in high school, dancing for the Langham Creek Bailadoras, when I went to the emergency room in the middle of the night with side pains. Several hours of waiting, blood work, and hospital changes later, I was diagnosed with leukemia for a second time on February 18, 2010.

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Temporary Tears
When I heard the diagnosis, I cried for only a minute, wiped the tears from my face, looked up at my doctors and asked, “Where do we start?” When life hands you an inconceivable obstacle it’s easier to shut down and give up, but in that moment I knew that if I did that I was letting my cancer win. I knew from the very first minute that I was going to be okay because giving up was simply not an option. That was the moment that I decided that I was going to choose happiness, but more importantly I was going to choose life.

In August 2012, I successfully finished a more aggressive two-and-a-half year treatment plan full of over 30 inpatient hospital stays, 57 rounds, and almost 200 actual doses of chemotherapy drugs, five ICU visits, hundreds of outpatient visits, and dozens of unplanned emergency room stays. I didn’t let my cancer affect my life. I fought every single day and maintained the mentality that I had cancer, but cancer was never going to have me. I was crowned homecoming queen my senior year, graduated on time with the class of 2011, and was geared up to transfer to my dream college just four days after completing my last chemo transfusion.

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Finding My Purpose
For me, the end of my treatment was not the end of my fight. I spent a lot of time trying to find my purpose in life and reason for surviving until I realized that the very thing that I had overcome was the answer to all of those questions. Through my sickness, I was able to discover my passion for advocacy. I’ve had cancer twice, and I think it’s a harsh, but true, reality that at this point there is nothing – except for hope, faith, and blind optimism – to say that it won’t come back again. For this reason, I have devoted my entire life to advocating on behalf of those who have lost their battle and finding a cure for those who continue to fight theirs.

I’ve been a spokesperson for several cancer organizations since being diagnosed for the second time in 2010, and I’m currently working with a national organization called Teen Cancer America, a charity devoted to improving the lives of teenagers and young adults with cancer.

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Never Giving Up
I know it sounds odd, but I think more good came out of my being sick than bad. I’ve learned more in my short 21 years than some do in their whole lifetime. If there is anything that I wish people could take away from my story it would be these three simple lessons: Be thankful. No matter what you’re going through, there is always someone going through something worse. Choose your battles. You don’t have a say in what life throws at you, but you do have a say in the way you handle it. Have h

ope. Fighting is not just for cancer patients, but for everyone. In everything you do, the most important thing is to never, ever, ever give up. CFM

CFM_W_14_My Story_Devin Duncan_Photo by Impressions by Leslie (1)

Editor’s Note: Cy-Fair Magazine is on TEAM DEVIN too! We are so inspired by this amazing young woman! If you know an inspirational Cy-Fairian, email editor@cyfairmagazine.com