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Guest column: Using words to fight cancer
Hollie Lewis
Hollie Lewis

I could have garnered fame like Cillian McCann, who spoke his first word at 7 weeks old.

According to my mother I had a way with words at an early age, which must have gone to my head because I would tell people that I was “smart” as if it were my name.

By second grade I was able to talk my way into the gifted program at my school. It happened when my teacher asked me to report to the principal that her purse was missing.

Mrs. Tanner was so impressed by the way I explained the situation, she placed me in the program. In fourth grade I transitioned to a school that was far more advanced. I felt like a fish out of water because I was only one of a handful of students of color in the entire school.

To make matters worse, the day before my first day, my dad gave me a really weird haircut that was supposed to make my super thick Jheri curled hair look “even”. I ended up looking like a boy. All of the other girls in my class had long straight hair that feathered when they brushed it.

My lowest point came when I quickly realized that I wasn’t the smartest in class, Andy and Donna were. They sat at their desks located right next to me as a friendly reminder of how talentless I was. Or at least that’s what it felt like. They accelerated through every assignment at the speed of light.

At first I questioned their intelligence by figuring they were putting anything down for answers in order to finish first. However, after constantly seeing their graded work that had bright red three digit grades and fruit scented stickers placed under the word “Excellent”, I stopped probing.

Our teacher practically worshiped them and most of us students would have given up our bologna sandwiches and brownies just to be best friends with them. While in the 8th grade I set a goal to become an oncologist after watching the 1985 movie Love Lives On, a fact-based movie directed by Larry Peerce and starring Mary Stuart Masterson. The movie is about a teenage girl who died of cancer. I watched it at least 20 times, crying at the end every time.

I also made my friends watch it when they slept over at my house. If they weren’t moved to tears by the end of the movie, I considered them heartless and questioned if I even knew them. To see a young person’s life being cut short, never having the opportunity to leave a legacy compared to their healthy counterparts made me feel a sense of urgency to fight against cancer.

In high school I decided to commit to a future in oncology so I signed up to take Healthcare Science. However, a few weeks into the class, I almost fainted as we watched a video of a cardiac catheterization procedure. While volunteering at a clinic, I became nauseated by the smell it had and had a poor appetite for three days.

While at a blood bank I became so squeamish when I saw a butterfly needle that the phlebotomist consoled me for about 20 minutes as if I were bereaved. Sadly, I began to realize that becoming an oncologist was not for me and that familiar feeling of not being talented overcame me again.

One day, our Healthcare Science teacher told us to pick a disease to write about and present to the class. I selected ovarian cancer and ran hard with it. My essay was exemplary and I decked out a poster board with neon colored words and illustrations.

When it was time for me to present I purposefully had a strong authority in my tone because I wanted my peers to see cancer as the deadly disease that it was, killing not only my generation but others as well.

At the end of my presentation every eye was on me and I could hear several whispers of “good job”. That was the moment I knew that I could help in the fight against cancer not as an oncologist using medical devices, but through my words. And as for my other former classmates; Andy became a pilot and guess who became the doctor?

That’s right, Donna!

Hollie Lewis is a strategic marketing consultant and news correspondent for Bryan County News. You can reach her at

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