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Reflecting on My First Year of College With a Chronic Illness

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I am currently finishing my first year of college. Finals are in one week, and while I am studying for my exams, I am also reflecting on how I got here.

On April 14, 2017, I was diagnosed with pseudotumor cerebri. I have dubbed this day the worst day of my life. Even though it is not a terminal disease, I thought that it meant my life was over. I was living in constant and excruciating pain and was in the process of going blind. I believed I would never be able to live independently or pursue my dream of studying engineering. I was devastated because my life changed drastically with four seemingly small words: “You have pseudotumor cerebri.”

But here I am. I am a freshman at Ohio State University studying electrical engineering. This past year, I have done the unimaginable: I have gone to football games, built a vehicle prototype, went caving in Virginia and made lifelong friends. To a girl who just wanted to get back to sleep, this is a dream come true. This is my fairy tale.

I often think back to the first doctor who treated me for pseudotumor cerebri. I remember distinctly that about a week or two after my diagnosis, I had started to realize this was real. The depression had begun to take over my mind and body, and I was ready to give up the fight. But my mother was not. At this appointment, my mom asked the doctor about my options and when the treatment would take my pain away. The doctor subsequently responded by saying that this was my life. The pain and deteriorating eyes were my new reality. Basically, I had no options to live a “normal” life.

Now I live two hours away from home by plane, with no family in the same state as me, pursuing my dream. My mom did not accept my doctor’s answer and spent days searching for a solution. She found a clinical trial and convinced the surgeons in charge to see me. On June 20, 2017, I was brought in to the operating room and given a second chance at life. June 20th, 2017 was the best day of my life.

At this exact moment, I am sitting in my fundamentals of engineering class minutes after my final presentation, and I feel amazing. I have already accomplished so much more than I thought I could have two years ago. I still struggle with my relationship with chronic illness. It affects my life every day. But I know my illness is just one chapter in my story, and what I have started during this past year will make up many more. As my freshman year comes to a close, I know this is just the beginning of my journey and I am so excited to see what happens.

Getty image by Milkos.

Originally published: May 12, 2019
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