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Cancer survivor calls life 'a miracle'

BI alum marks three years in remission with college graduation

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POSTED: May 20, 2013 1:00 a.m.
Photo by Samantha Koss/

Christopher Deigh plays the drums with his gospel group during a concert at Mt. Zion Mission Baptist Church to celebrate graduating from college and being cancer-free for three years.

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Christopher Deigh attended college with hopes of a successful future and a dream to better himself, but his plans were delayed.
During his junior year at Bradwell Institute, Deigh, a Hinesville native, learned he had acute lymphocytic leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells.
“ALL decreases the amount of healthy blood cells in your body,” he explained. “And the ones you do have are mostly cancerous.”
Deigh began feeling lethargic in 2009. He kept getting colds, had constant headaches and was tired all of the time.
“I took my last final exam as a junior, April 28, 2010, and that Wednesday I went to the doctor to figure out what was wrong with me,” he said.
His doctor told him his hemoglobin level was at a four, while a normal level is between 14 and 17.
“I was living off a fourth of a tank of blood,” he said. “Eventually, you have to refuel.”
 His body was producing cancerous white and red blood cells, but his doctor didn’t know that yet.
“They had to give me six pints of O positive blood,” he said. “I felt great … I thought I was fine.”
The doctor performed a bone-marrow biopsy, which confirmed cancer.  
Deigh started intense chemotherapy and radiation treatments at Emory University in Atlanta. He was in remission within a month, but continued chemotherapy for another year and half.
“It was a miracle that the cancer left so fast,” he said. “But my doctor didn’t want me to relapse, so I continued therapy to build a resistance against the cancer.”
The treatments made him weak, and he lost his hair. Through all the treatments, Deigh continued to attend school.
“I failed some classes, but I didn’t want to quit,” he said. “I didn’t tell my teachers at first. I told them I was feeling under the weather.”
Over time, Deigh opened up about his health, and his teachers worked with him.
“The decision of staying in school was for my parents,” he said. His family helped him with homework and assisted through the ordeal.
“I had to get stronger and live a normal life,” he said. “It was very hard to get through.”
After his diagnosis, Deigh grew depressed and reserved.
 “Why did this happen to me? I am trying to better myself. Why me?” he asked himself.
Growing up in a Baptist church, he thought his faith was strong. But after a cancer nightmare, it wasn’t so easy.
“I struggled with my faith,” he said. “It is easy to say you love God, but when something horrible happens, do you still love God?”
Deigh had to learn how to depend on his faith to get through the difficult time.
“My faith is a lot stronger now,” he said. “I realized that God chose me to be an example for others.”
Deigh now tells his inspirational story at church and to other people going through similar hardships.
“Once you hear the word cancer, it is really hard to accept,” he said. “I tell them, you have to live your life positively and stress-free … cancer feeds off stress.”
Deigh tried to live his life as normally as possible. He went for walks in the park, watched movies and went bowling with his brother.
“You can’t let yourself stay depressed and lay around the house … don’t wallow in sorrow,” he said. “Even in your worst moments, think positively and surround yourself with positive people.”
Deigh also helps raise money for Relay for Life: American Cancer Society. He raised $5,000 for research through the Albany Society Chapter.
“Research is very important,” he said. “Research is necessary to improve survival rates and to help educate patients.”
Almost three years after his cancer was discovered, Deigh graduated from Albany State University with a bachelor’s of arts in business. He celebrated his graduation by hosting a concert May 11 with his gospel music group at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, the church in which he grew up playing drums. He also is celebrating three years of being in remission.
“I want to offer a gospel concert to bring awareness to the community and to fundraise,” he said.
Deigh accrued half a million dollars in medical bills.
“I know how hard it is for parents to scrape by,” he said. “Chemo was about $15,000 per session, and a bag of blood is about $6,000.”
Even with insurance, treatment was expensive for him and his family.
“My mom drove from Hinesville to Atlanta for every one of my chemo treatments,” he said. “Gas and missing work all adds up ... it was a sacrifice.”
After all those sacrifices, Deigh now is a college graduate.
“I’m managing life, and I cherish the small things,” he said. “I don’t complain because I’ve seen the worse.”
Deigh still lives with disabilities. He lost cartilage in his hips as a result of chemo and started out in a wheelchair. He now can walk without a cane, but he can’t run.
“I never quit trying,” he said. “My life is a miracle, and I thank God every day for it.”

 

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