Last Word

Race against time

"Life is short."

We hear that all the time from people. The phrase takes on a whole new meaning, however, when you hear it from the doctors who are treating you for cancer.

I was diagnosed with pericardial synovial sarcoma, an extremely rare and aggressive cancer, in June of 2015. Six months later, I had to take a semester off from pursuing my Geology degree at UC to undergo open-heart surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I was devastated.

Not only was I terminally ill, but as an ambitious, hard-working person, I had to put classes on the back burner, only compounding my frustrations as previous hardships had already delayed my graduation by a semester.

I completed chemotherapy in December 2015 and moved back to campus so that I could take classes again the following January. Things were difficult at first, but I was determined. Plus, the faculty and staff at UC were more than accommodating to my needs. Did I think about dropping out of school? Absolutely. Almost every day in fact. But I had worked so hard up to that point, I just couldn’t bring myself to quit.


Tori Thomas sits holding hands with her mother Melissa Caldwell.

Tori Thomas with her mother Melissa Caldwell. photo/Joseph Fuqua II


In fall of 2016, I was diagnosed with a new tumor that required surgery and radiation. This time though, I wasn’t letting it get in my way. Despite radiation every morning for five weeks, I continued taking classes. I eventually completed my final class spring semester of 2017, but with so many things going on I missed the application for graduation.

In May 2017, I was diagnosed with yet another tumor and missed my chance to graduate during summer commencement, too. I was heartbroken. Treatments weren’t working on the cancer anymore, and my degree was slipping through my fingers. At one point, my heart literally ached with a longing for that piece of paper. I had worked so hard. I deserved it, but it seemed I was probably going to die before I got it.

Luckily, my advisors worked with me to ensure that my hard work wasn’t in vein, and I finally received my diploma last fall. Sadly, I can never apply for jobs in my field, but that doesn’t bother me. What matters is the sense of accomplishment I have developed. It’s something that no one can take from me.

So, yes, life is short, but I am proud of my degree and the blood, sweat, and tears I put into it.


Tori Thomas, A&S ’17, lost her battle with cancer on Feb. 22. She wrote this piece in January 2018 knowing she likely wouldn't get to see it published in print. Still, she sent the piece and included the following note: "I can't tell you how much it means to me that you've helped me create a legacy."

Thomas received the Myles Redder Award from UC’s geology department for her drive to finish her degree despite nearly impossible health obstacles. Read her complete feature story and learn about the scholarship that has been started in her name at UC Clermont College. Read additional thoughts by and about Tori in our Letters section.



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