Abby Young had always dreamed of graduating from Carolina. But there was a time when she wasn’t sure she’d be able to graduate high school on schedule, much less go to college. During her sophomore year of high school, Young was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
“When I was diagnosed, I thought, ‘I’m not going to let this change who I am or stop me from doing anything I want to do,’” she recalled. “Three days before I was getting my surgery, I had to go to a pre-surgery consultation, and I had a chemistry test the next day. I was sitting there in the consultation with my binder, studying for my test because it was my dream to get into Carolina, and I was not going to let it stop me.”
Cancer didn’t force Young to change her plans.
This weekend, Young will graduate from Carolina with a degree in media and journalism. At the ceremony, Young will celebrate her academic achievements and the resiliency it took the Tar Heel to get to this day.
“When I was 15 years old, I really knew I wanted to graduate [high school] on time and get into my dream college, but I had no clue how attainable that was actually going to be,” she said. “Seeing that I’ve overcome that, gone to college and gotten the whole college experience and graduating on time is just amazing to me.”
Young’s cancer diagnosis came serendipitously when her mom noticed a bulge in her neck after having watched an episode of “The Doctors” TV show that covered thyroid cancer. The family went to the doctor the next day and Young was diagnosed with thyroid cancer within a week.
“[The doctors] said that I had probably had it since I was 7 years old,” she said. “Within a month, I was getting my thyroid surgery to get my whole thyroid out.”
Young had to miss class time to undergo treatments, but she was able to graduate high school on schedule in 2019. She began her studies at Carolina that fall.
The transition from a small school of 32 students in her graduating class to UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus was a jolt for Young. She says her battle with cancer gave her “new outlook on life” and enabling her to “not take anything for granted and to always try to live life in the moment.” She employed that new perspective early in her undergraduate career to thrive in Chapel Hill.
“I came in as a chemistry, pre-pharmacy major, and I quickly learned that that was just not for me. And I definitely felt kind of lost and was struggling,” she said. “My sophomore year, I enrolled in some of the advertising and public relations classes at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and I immediately just fell in love with them. I knew that it was what I wanted to do. I got excited to go to class, excited to get assigned homework, to be able to work on something, which was life-changing for me because I had never felt that way about something.”
Following her graduation this weekend, Young plans to move to Florence, Italy, to work for a travel company for three months. When she returns in August, she hopes to apply the skills she learned at the Hussman School by finding a job in advertising. She also intends to seek out opportunities to raise awareness about pediatric thyroid cancer and hopefully use her own experience to contribute to saving lives.
“I feel like just coming to Carolina and meeting so many people whom I had never met before and just feeling comfortable enough to tell them about everything that I’ve experienced with my health was just a blessing — to be welcomed by people that were just so understanding and know that they would always be there for me when I needed them,” she said. “Carolina has such a big place in my heart. I feel like it has really allowed me to just thrive and live the life I’ve always wanted.”