2018 Claflin graduate overcomes battle with cancer
Orangeburg, S.C. (WACH) -- Claflin University held its 148th Commencement Ceremony at the South Atlantic Seventh-Day Adventist Convention Center on Saturday morning.
And yet, while the 385 graduates of the 2018 graduating class were all excited about the momentous finish line they were about to cross, one student, Ashanti Pitts, reflected on a time she thought it may never come.
"I'm excited and nervous at the same time," said Pitts. "It hasn't sunk in that I'm even here in this moment, with all that we've been through."
Pitts, now a graduate, is also a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer when she was 17-years-old.
It was devastating news not only for Ashanti, but also her mother, Kenita Pitts, who said the diagnosis was heartbreaking to hear about her only child.
"Children look to you for strength and to make everything right," said Kenita. "It's hard to see your child go through chemo, radiation, having to be put in a wheelchair, learning how to walk again....you feel so hopeless."
Ashanti recalls having to go to go to chemotherapy in the morning, and then class. When she got to college, she and her mother were dealt yet another blow: doctors said that the cancer was spreading, to her lungs and to her heart.
" I had withdrawal papers in my hand ready to quit," said Ashanti. "Because I said, 'This is not for me. This is obviously not for me. I can't do this.'"
Kenita Pitts said she and her daughter were deeply depressed and struggled to find ways to cope with the sickness.
But Ashanti held on, pushing through things like fatigue and severe vomiting that, some days, threatened to keep her out of school and in bed. "All glory goes to God," she said. "I have a praying mother and a praying family. Very supportive friends. The staff and faculty here [at Claflin] helped me get through. I'm very blessed."
And then, a breakthrough shortly after. After more chemo and physical therapy, doctors told Ashanti and Kenita that her cancer was in remission. Not only that, more good news: doctors had previously told Ashanti that her foot may have to be amputated to contain the illness. Now, that was no longer needed; in fact, Ashanti was able to slowly begin walking normally again.
"And in four-inch heels," said Ashanti, laughing.
"[I'm] just happy," said Kenita. "She defied everything that the doctors said she wouldn’t be able to do. So, I’m just happy and thankful to God that he saw fit to heal her so that she could have this day. I’m just so happy, so happy."
Ashanti Pitts crossed the stage Saturday with her Bachelors of Arts in Sociology. She plans on becoming a rehab counselor to give encouragement to those facing significant mental and health battles of their own.
"Cancer is not a death sentence," said Ashanti. "I'm living proof."