The We Shall Overcome Series is a collection of stories from women who have faced hardship with courage.  We hope these stories inspire and encourage you as much as they have us.

Meet Haley and her life with cancer.   
Haley Ruhe
2016 was an interesting year for me, but for very different reasons than most. 2016 was a year of intense pain, yet also a year of growth and encouragement. It all started just two months before, in November 2015. I had just turned 21 years old, and life was great. Born and raised in Northern Virginia, I was blessed to be able to attend college across the country at the University of Arizona where I flourished. By the time I turned 21, I had good grades, had great friends, was in joined a sorority, was in my school’s top undergrad choir, and was a bible study leader in my campus ministry. Life was pretty sweet. Then a week after my 21st birthday I got a call from my doctor regarding my recent biopsy on a large bump just above my collarbone. While that bump had grown to the size of a golf ball, it hadn’t affected my health in any other way, so I wasn’t really nervous about the results, figuring it was just an inflamed lymph node or a cyst. But when my doctor asked if I could bring a family member or friend to my appointment discussing the results, I knew something was wrong. She then proceeded to inform me that I had Lymphoma. 

​I Had Cancer.  

While that bump had grown to the size of a golf ball, it hadn’t affected my health in any other way, so I wasn’t really nervous about the results, figuring it was just an inflamed lymph node or a cyst.

  
I listened as best as I could to her explaining the disease, most importantly that it’s one of the most treatable cancers, giving me over a 90% chance of survival. While that was reassuring, I was still freaking out. I had cancer. What? How is that possible? What does this even mean? While at the time I didn’t think I was in shock, I totally was. I didn’t have the time, mental capacity, or emotional capacity to consider the implications of that. The following week, all I could do was take it a day at a time (heck, a MINUTE at a time), breathe, and pray.

Right after I got off the phone with my doctor, I had her call my dad and inform him of my diagnosis herself because in my distress I didn’t think I could fully explain what was going on and knew that hearing his little girl sobbing “I have cancer” would be pretty overwhelming. While she was doing that, I ran out of my room in my sorority house to tell my little and another trusted sorority sister. They comforted me as I cried, brought me dinner, and agreed to tell the rest of our chapter that night. Living in the sorority house, this was actually really helpful because I didn’t have to pretend I hadn’t just gotten the worst news of my life. I called my closest friends, including my best friend Sarah, who knew about the biopsy and graciously told me she’d start praying for me as I hung up on her to answer the incoming call from my dad.

That night was full of tears, hugs, and lots of phone calls. All the important people in my life immediately rallied behind me. When I finally talked to my dad, he asked me, “Where do you want to go when all of this is over? I’ll send you anywhere you want.” When I said, Disney World, he jokingly asked, “anywhere else?” and we had a good laugh. Sarah made me laugh even harder when she named my cancer bump, “Grumpy the Lumpy”. That night my sorority sisters also showered me with love by sneaking flowers, letters, and a gift basket into my room. Two of my sorority advisors visited me as well, one of them even offering to go with me to my doctor appointment the next day which I graciously accepted (as the head pediatric oncology nurse at the local children’s’ hospital, this was really freaking helpful).

As the most significant week of my life thus far, I could go on and on about this, but I’ll spare you and summarize the rest. In short, my dad flew into Tucson the next day to attend my appointment with an oncologist, where we decided I needed to be treated at home in Virginia. We needed to move quickly in order to stage the disease and treat it, so within the week I said goodbye to my Arizona friends, packed up, and flew back to Virginia to kill Grumpy the Lumpy.

Finally, after over a month of doctors’ appointments to properly diagnose my disease (stage II Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) and assess my body going into treatment, I started my 6 months of chemotherapy the week of Christmas. Needless to say, that Christmas sucked. That first round of chemo was definitely one of the worst because I went from fully healthy to sickly and therefore was hyper aware of chemo’s effects. In general, the whole first month was the worst. Physically, I was at my sickest. I experienced a full day of puking, leaving me too exhausted to even tell my dad I loved him when he tucked me into bed at 7 pm. The second my dad left town on a business trip, my stepmom had to take off work to take me to the doctor when I experienced intense chest pains. I was constantly nauseous, not yet knowing how to properly manage my nausea with my prescribed medication. Emotionally, I was also a mess. I was so physically ill that I hardly had the energy to even cry about my circumstances. Convinced I was going to feel that sick for 6 months straight, I was left feeling hopeless. And to top if all off, I watched my hair fall out and eventually shaved it. While I was so sick that I didn’t really care how I looked, I felt like I lost some of my femininity.   


"I watched my hair fall out and eventually shaved it. While I was so sick that I didn’t really care how I looked, I felt like I lost some of my femininity."

I know what you’re thinking; this is so depressing. Poor girl. Well spoiler alert: I BEAT CANCER. Grumpy the Lumpy was declared dead on June 16, 2016, making me cancer-free ever since. Many of you probably assumed just as much, but I thought I’d let you know just in case. Oh yeah, and I really did go to Disney World afterwards to celebrate with Sarah.

"Grumpy the Lumpy was declared dead on June 16, 2016..."

Yes, cancer was hard, but there were so many good things that came of it, and so many happy memories. Heck, even the sad memories bring me joy because they remind me of what I’ve overcome. When I remember my hair falling out, I think about how in order to comfort me the day it started, my dad took a shower and changed his clothes just so that he could hug me despite being sick. When I remember the dreaded chemo days, I think about my awesome nurses. When I remember all the people I left behind, I think about all the sweet gifts and cards they sent me. When remember all the hours I spent in my bed nauseous, I think about my dog snuggling with me. When I remember the boredom, I think about volunteering at my high school choir department, where I got to sing and hang out with my high school choir teacher, the woman I admire most. When I remember the loneliness, I think about Sarah, who was always there for me; the friend who considered me her purpose for living at home instead of at school. 

"Even the sad memories bring me joy because they remind me of what I’ve overcome."

 So yeah, cancer sucked. but in the midst of killing Grumpy the Lumpy, I grew a lot. I deeply experienced the love of my friends and family and more importantly, Jesus. I grew so much in my faith, which has transformed me into the stronger person I am today. I recognize that having gone through cancer doesn’t mean I’ve experienced the worst this world has to offer, but I now have strength and trust as my foundation that I didn’t have before. Bring it on world!

"I recognize that having gone through cancer doesn’t mean I’ve experienced the worst this world has to offer, but I now have strength and trust as my foundation that I didn’t have before."

Haley was born and raised in Ashburn, VA and left home when she moved to attend the University of Arizona in Tuscon, AZ.  She juggles school, an internship, student leadership in a ministry called The Navigators, a member of Alpha Chi Omega, and is currently on a hunt for a job is Dallas, TX. Haley loves telling her story of defeating "Grumpy the Lumpy" to encourage others and her favorite things include Jesus, singing, coffee, Disney, politics, and spending as much time as possible with her friends.