In October 2012, Elon University School of Law student Ragan Riddle was a senior at Wingate University when a visit to the doctor changed everything — she was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer of the blood and lymph nodes that is 80 percent curable.
But she was determined not to let that faze her and remained true to her positive self.
“When the doctor told me, ‘We think it might be lymphoma’, I remember thinking to myself, ‘That is a type of cancer, but I’m not entirely sure,’” Riddle said. “As he talked more, that was quickly confirmed.”
Despite receiving the terrible news, Riddle felt a sense of calmness the moment she had the disease confirmed.
“I’m a planner and really like to know what is ahead, so the fact that I wasn’t panicking was very uncharacteristic for me,” she said. “I know it was the Lord giving me a peace that surpassed all understanding right in the moment I needed it.”
Riddle underwent back pain, frequent fevers, fatigue and chemotherapy — all while managing to graduate college with a 4.0 GPA. By then, the cancer was in remission, and her doctors believed she had been cured.
But in August, similar symptoms returned, and in September Riddle was again diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She underwent a harsher treatment, including more toxic chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.
When she received the news her cancer had returned this fall, she knew taking time off was not an option for her. Riddle was motivated to remain on track of her intended May 2017 graduation date from Elon Law, the July Bar Exam and her upcoming summer internship with the Raleigh-based Smith Debnam law firm.
She had successfully completed her senior year and chemo treatment simultaneously in the past, and knew it was possible to overcome once again.
“Choosing anything besides joy just wasn’t an option,” Riddle said. “I think when we focus on the negatives, we drain not only ourselves but the people around us. Choosing joy just not only allows you to gain perspective you wouldn’t otherwise have, but allows you to have a platform to influence others.”
Riddle’s faith has helped her remain positive and has shaped the outcome of her journey. To help friends and family keep up with her journey, Riddle created a blog on Tumblr to discuss her journey from diagnosis to remission through her faith.
“My cancer is a part of my story, but it in no way defines me,” Riddle said. “I’m thankful for the lessons that it has taught and the doors that it has opened. I have such an appreciation for both the big and small things, which is something I didn’t have before. I may have been a cancer patient, but I was and am also a law student, a friend, a sister [and] a nonprofit lover.”
Allison Wray first met Riddle at Wingate freshman year. The two have remained friends throughout the years, as sisters in Alpha Xi Delta and as roommates in undergraduate school. The two found a connection through faith, meaningful relationships and determination to excel academically.
Their friendship has only deepened since Riddle’s diagnosis.
“Ragan will always be Ragan to me,” Wray said. “She still is her true and genuine self to the core. However, as one would expect, she’s developed a sense of remarkable strength and perseverance. Instead of using her diagnosis as a hindrance, she found ways to use it to tell a greater story.”
Riddle’s godmother Jan Register, program assistant at the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life at Elon University, has been close friends with Riddle’s mother for 35 years and has seen Riddle’s journey. Riddle’s middle name is Hope, and as Register said, it’s a perfect name for her.
“Honestly, Ragan has always been the same as she is now — extremely goal-oriented, intensely determined, positive, inspiring [and] strong in her faith,” Register said. “I would say that anyone who goes through what she has been through is stronger, fearless, more grateful and less worried about the little things. This is all true of Ragan.”
Register said once Riddle sets her mind to something, she has the ability to get it done.
“She throws herself into her passions, and has thrown herself into beating cancer with the same intensity,” Register said.
Now that Riddle is back in remission, she remains busy, focusing on her law studies. While a cancer diagnosis is difficult news to hear, keeping her faith and keeping her focus on her future were powerful motivators.
“It’s just made me realize what a huge impact you can have on people when you choose to use your story for good and be willing to share that story, even with the mess and vulnerability, as you experience it,” Riddle said. “More than anything, I think it’s just taught me that I want to be a person that always looks for opportunities and ways to use whatever position I have to impact others.”