In Profile: Agricultural economics grad, cancer survivor Barclay White inspires
At Barclay White's first day of freshman orientation at Texas Tech, a counselor asked the group of incoming Red Raiders to share an interesting fact about themselves. White had an easy answer and a hard answer. He went for the easy answer. They may be the Class of 2015, but these were strangers then.
"I have an identical twin," he told the other incoming students.
"Oh, is he here?"
"Yeah, we just look different because he has hair," White told them. "And someone goes, 'why don't you have hair?'"
Now came the hard answer. "Uh, because I have cancer," the 18-year-old said.
White laughs as he tells the story, remembering how the students scooted away from him, as if he was contagious. He reminisces fondly about the handicapped placard he had on his car for most of his freshman year at Tech and unabashedly confesses to using his illness to score sympathy points both with young women and his parents.
Four years ago White, a fourth-generation Red Raider, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma a month before graduating from Frenship High School. Today, White is working at Tech and preparing for law school in the fall. He graduated with a degree in agricultural economics in December before spending the spring semester in Washington, D.C., working with U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway [R-TX11].
His hair is back, his sense of humor is unmarred and the cancer is gone. So is his fear. "It definitely gave me a drive to make the most of every day," he said. "Where some students freak out about a grade or whatever, I feel like after going through all that, especially when thinking I could die at 18 years old, you really learn how to take certain things with a grain of salt, and learn how to prioritize what really matters."
White's worst moment was the day he had a needle biopsy of the tumor. A doctor stuck a large needle between his ribs and extracted a chunk of tumor, which would tell them what was growing in his lung and how to treat it. But it didn't. The tumor had gotten so big that it was pushing up against its chest and cutting off its own blood supply, leaving a raft of dead tissue that couldn't be diagnosed.
That day also was the day Mark Miller walked into White's room. Miller, a professor of animal and food sciences at Texas Tech, would be White's professor years later. White would sit next to Miller's son in his first college class. That day, however, Miller was just there to pray with White. They'd never met before Miller walked into the room. He'd heard from a friend about this young man fighting cancer.
"I was praying for him and his healing, and God spoke to me and asked me to go to the hospital and pray over him and his healing," Miller said. "I was asked to tell him that he was going to be okay and that he would be healed." He returned to the hospital a few more times, bearing beef jerky and the department's well wishes.
White had another helpful run-in at COWamongus, the department's restaurant. He, his mom and his sister were eating lunch one summer day when they saw Sam Jackson, one of the college's advisers. White's fall schedule was set, but his chemo stretched into September and he worried about being able to keep up. The three approached Jackson, who finished his lunch and invited them to his office, both to redo White's schedule, making it more manageable, and to assure him that yes, he thought White could handle it.
"That was really cool, the department I started in, that being the first glimpse of it," he said.
In the middle of October, with midterms looming and fall break beckoning; White went to the hospital for another scan. All the cancer cells in his body were gone. "I remember it being a huge relief," he said. Even though it was the news he expected, hearing it lifted a weight from his mind.
At 18, White had accomplished something huge and frightening. In comparison to cancer, many other things seemed manageable. Armed with that perspective, he was elected president of President's Select, was appointed to the Student Government Association executive cabinet, joined CASNR's Agri-Techsans, a recruiting organization for the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and went to Washington, D.C., as an intern for Rep. Conaway, who is chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.
Written by Heidi Toth
CONTACT: Phillip Johnson, chairman and director of the university's Thornton Agricultural Finance Institute, Department of Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Texas Tech University at (806) 834-0474 or firstname.lastname@example.org
0630NM15 / Editor's Note: For full text of story, go to http://tidings.ttu.edu/posts/2015/06/student-spotlight-barclay-white