A year ago, Brittain Bass was just coming to grips with being told he had Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Twenty-three-year-olds don't get cancer," he told The Greenville News at the time. "You never think about it happening to you."
But a tumor was indeed growing in his chest and it had wrapped itself around the arteries near his heart. It could not be surgically removed.
Once the shock wore off, the Southside Christian High School graduate resolved to battle the disease head-on and with a sense of humor. His Facebook page includes such posts as "Probably shouldn't have spent so much time staring in the microwave all these years," and "Just a heads up, PET scans and CAT scans are not what they sound like. I was disappointed to find out there are no animals involved in the process."
But the most important part of the fight was the constant support and love of family and friends.
“They just showed me how blessed I was through the whole thing,” he said. “I never felt like I was walking alone
It was a tough year, full of stress and anxiety and fear. But after 12 rounds of chemotherapy, the Simpsonville coffee shop barista is thrilled to say he's cancer free.
“We did a couple of scans, one in July and another one just last month, and they both came back clear,” he said. “It was a big sigh of relief, that's for sure.”
Bass began feeling ill in August 2016, shortly before his 23rd birthday. He had trouble breathing and felt a strange tightness in his chest.
Tests determined he had stage 2 Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The disease strikes about 8,500 people a year, often those in the 15-29 age range, according to Dr. Hal Crosswell, director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Care Program at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, where Bass was treated.
But because it's a kind of cancer that tends to respond well to therapy, it can often be cured.
A port was implanted in Bass's chest and he spent the next few months undergoing chemotherapy, which left him tired and groggy. It also cost him his long, curly brown hair, which hadn't been cut in six years.
Though Bass had earned degrees in religious studies and philosophy at the University of South Carolina thinking he'd go into the ministry, for the past few months he's been in a two-year graduate program at Clemson studying clinical mental health counseling to help other cancer patients.
“God's got a sense of humor,” he quipped. “I was a die-hard Carolina fan and I'm enrolled at Clemson right now.”
After his inspirational story appeared in The News last year on Christmas Eve, Bass got lots of letters from people he didn't know who'd seen it.
“We had people handwrite letters who talked about how much that story meant to them,” he said. “It was really, really cool to know it had an impact on people.”
Since finishing chemo, Bass has gotten his own place and is busy with his studies, his friends and simply enjoying life again.
“After a year like that, it's nice just to be able to breathe again. You feel like you put your life on hold for a while,” he said.
“It's nice when homework is the biggest thing I have to worry about.”
Now, he said, cancer is in his rearview mirror. A tattoo of a ship on his forearm reminds him to keep moving forward because ships don't look back.
“I'm getting back to school and working towards a career and leaving all that behind,” he said. “And the farther you get away from it, the smaller it looks.
“I'm counting my blessings for sure.”