EDUCATION

Hattiesburg teen turns diagnosis into a platform for positivity

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Natalie Beth Seales
Oxford Stories
nbseales@go.olemiss.edu

A one-in-a-million diagnosis changed the life of an 18-year-old from Hattiesburg, but she quickly turned her diagnosis into a positive platform.

Two years ago, Maggie Hanberry was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. “The diagnosis came out of nowhere,” she said. “Cancer hadn’t been on my radar.”

Hanberry’s rare diagnosis brought forth a lot of attention and support, so her family has used different methods to keep people updated.

“Maggie first started using the platform of CaringBridge, where I would update friends about her treatment,” said Melissa Hanberry, Maggie’s mom. “I would share her incredible positive outlook. She wrote a few personal messages there and then developed her own blog.”

Maggie Hanberry has grown as a communicator over the past two and a half years and has used her platform to incite positive change.

“I use it to tell people what I care about most and what I think is important,” said Maggie Hanberry. “[Topics] like faith, raising awareness for childhood cancer and Batson.”

While Hanberry has an adult disease, she has been treated at a children’s cancer center – Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson. Through her time at Batson, she discovered the incredible lack of funding for childhood cancers.

“I just like to inform people of the lack of funding for childhood cancer and the disparity between funding for childhood cancer and adult cancer,” said Hanberry. “Even though it’s considered an uncommon disease, it’s still the number one disease killer of children.”

Melissa Hanberry said Maggie sees the need for greater research funding and has expressed this need through her blog and other social media platforms.

“She has inspired over $10,000 in direct donations to Batson and the Children’s Cancer Center through ‘Maggie’s Tutu Challenge’ during the 2014 Jingle Bell Jog, T-shirt sales of ‘Medals for Maggie’ shirts for the 2015 Princess Half Marathon Weekend at Disney World and other donations,” Melissa Hanberry said.

Maggie Hanberry sees her diagnosis and ongoing treatment as a platform that she can use to bring awareness to important issues and spread positivity in challenging times.

“I want to kind of share how I get through it,” said Hanberry. “I am sharing that with them so they can see how they can get through a difficult circumstance in their life. For me, that has been solely based on my faith and God.”

Melissa Hanberry said they want people to know God is good even when we find ourselves in challenging situations that appear to be far from good.

“He is working for our good,” she said. “A cancer diagnosis – especially stage IVb – the worst – can offer an amazing opportunity to watch God at work,” she said.

Both Maggie and Melissa have received feedback about how their writings have affected other people.

“People have shared with us that it has helped them in their difficult circumstances,” said Maggie Hanberry. “It’s pretty exciting because even though I am not always happy with where I am in life, it’s good to know that God has used it for good in other people’s lives as well as mine.”

While Maggie Hanberry makes positivity look easy, it is quite the opposite.

“It can be very challenging to maintain a positive mindset with cancer,” said Crawford Clay, certified patient and family support navigator for the Colon Cancer Alliance. “You really need a strong support group.”

Since being diagnosed, Hanberry has developed new life goals.

“I’ve gained friends and a whole new concept of what I want to do with my life,” she said. “Being a patient at Batson, it has inspired me to become a nurse and work in oncology at some children’s hospital, but I would love to work at Batson. That is kind of my giving back what has given so much to me.”

Hanberry is always looking at the bright side of her diagnosis.

“It gave me the opportunity to meet Julie Andrews and see Hamilton,” she said. “It was cool because that would have never been possible if I hadn’t been sick, and that is something I always wanted to do.”

Hanberry also felt support from the Ole Miss campus.

“I felt outpouring support from Hugh Freeze, who sent me a signed football and Tweeted me,” said Hanberry, who is thankful for the chance to tell her story to so many.

“This has given me an opportunity, an outlet and an inspiration in my writing,” she said. “It started as a little WordPress blog, and it turned into a website where my mom and I both write blogs.”

To stay updated on Maggie, visit LeafbyLeaf.life.

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