BATON ROUGE, La. (BRProud) — Southern University graduating senior Natasha Dean is an Oakland, California native who was having the time of her life until things changed her sophomore year in March 2021 when she tried to donate blood to make some extra cash.

“I went to donate some blood and they do a physical on you. They felt this lump in my neck and they asked if I got it checked out. I had the lump for about a year,” Dean says.

Dean says she didn’t think of getting tests done, because she thought it wasn’t serious.

“In my mind, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s just stress’ or I hadn’t been sleeping the right way. I was very naive to what cancer was because I was thinking if it’s cancer, I would probably be losing my hair, so it’s not cancer.”

After doing a few tests, that’s when she got the news on April 6, 2021, no one wants to hear.

“Sure enough, I got to the clinic and she said there’s been a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Still didn’t know that was cancer. I was like that’s a really fancy infection and I’m going to be on a course of medication for a while.”

Immediately after her doctor told her the news, emotions took over.

“All I can remember is I took a deep breathe and as soon as I let it out, I broke down and I remember saying God help me with this.”

The even bigger blow was it was stage three Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Within seven days, she was back home in California to begin treatment.

“Initially when I came back home, I thought I was going to do treatment for three months and would be back in Louisiana like it never happened. Turned out I was going to need six months of treatment and 12 rounds of chemo. I finished that treatment in December 2021 but unfortunately, it did not work. I then started in January 2022 with immunotherapy and that’s what got me to complete remission status.”

During her time at home, she had doubts of balancing both school and treatment. Dean reassured herself that she was strong enough to get through the hurdle. Throughout her collegiate journey, she never took a semester off and maintained being on the Dean’s List. Her pathway to her degree she says is personal.

“It was not easy. I definitely had to go into overdrive trying to pre-plan everything because initially, I had treatment every two weeks. I had to make sure I was productive in between and get my classwork done. I had to prove to myself that you are strong and can get through the struggles of life. Struggles will come whether you’re 22 or 42. I think this journey built a lot of character and confidence within myself.”

Her year-and-a-half fight was easier to get through in part to her Southern University family.

“I’ve had professors speak life into me when I first told them. They took the time to pray. With COVID policies and procedures, we were still on Zoom. They took the time to pray over me and pray with me. I really have to thank everyone at Southern University for wrapping their arms around me and supporting me in the best way they knew how. It’s appreciated 10 times.”

Dean will be receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology and will start grad school in the fall. Through her journey, she wants to encourage anyone to go after what they want no matter the obstacle.

“It’s not easy but all I encourage you to do is to continue to show up for yourself. Show up for every dream and aspiration that you set forth before that even happens. Keep showing up for those dreams, keep showing up for those aspirations, those goals. Ultimately that is your goal. Life will throw you lemons, but you have to throw them right back.”

Dean will travel from California to walk across the stage with her classmates on May 13th at Southern University.

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