Squamous cell carcinoma survivor: How cancer helped me discover a new passion

When I started college, I had a specific vision of where my life was heading – I was going to be an Air Force pilot. I had a full Air Force ROTC scholarship and was selected to join the Euro-NATO Pilot Training Program. Little did I know, that was not where my life was heading. I received a cancer diagnosis at age 21. I’d gone to an ENT specialist because I had lost my voice and couldn’t get it back. I figured it was a sinus issue, so I was shocked when he instead diagnosed me with throat cancer – specifically, squamous cell carcinoma of the vocal cords. In 2001, I underwent a laser resection surgery and radiation therapy in my home state of Oklahoma. Though my treatment was successful, my medical condition disqualified me from the Air Force pilot program. I’ve always been an overachiever, so losing this opportunity made me feel like I’d lost part of my identity. I hated that feeling, so I set a new goal to graduate early from college. I did it, but I still had no career path. I took a job as paralegal until I could figure out what I wanted to do. Turns out, that position helped me discover a new passion: law. A squamous cell carcinoma recurrence Six years later, as I was beginning my career as a lawyer in Kansas City, Missouri, I developed a cough that wouldn’t stop. Then I started coughing up blood. A bronchoscopy revealed that I had squamous cell carcinoma of the trachea, and the cancer was in two different spots. I didn’t want...