GREENSBORO, N.C. — Lilli Hicks has experienced a lot since middle school. She's reflected on the journey to her senior year as students like her around the country approach graduation.
Her two bouts with acute myeloid leukemia and a life-threatening stem cell procedure are in the past, but it's not something Lilli is keen to forget.
"I haven't been directly involved with [cancer] for some time now, but it's always going to impact me. No matter how old I am, wherever I go, it's always going to be a part of who I am," Lilli said.
A senior a Grimsley High School, Lilli is six years removed from her first diagnosis. She's currently more preoccupied with cherishing the final months of the high school experience than reliving the toughest years of her life. Zoom makes senioritis ten times worse, but a high school football state championship helped a little, she's said.
The hard memories wash away with perspective, her father Travis said. He is, above all, grateful. His eyes flicker with emotion thinking about his eldest daughter walking across the graduation stage on June 6.
"It's hard to tell how the feelings are going to be! I think I could be very proud and want to cheer, but there's a chance that I'll probably be crying like a baby," Travis said.
The tears would understandably be the culmination of a journey of which there is no preparation for as a father. Travis rode side-by-side through the low points of Lilli's health, but he is also here for her triumphs.
In February, Lilli committed to Clemson University's prestigious honors program, one of her top schools. It's an accomplishment the UNC Greensboro professor can appreciate while marveling at the perseverance it took to achieve.
"For her to succeed through these trying times, first battle cancer twice, surviving a stem-cell transplant, and to still graduate near the top of her class, then to attend a prestigious honors college in the fall," Travis said, "I am so proud of her. It proves how resilient she is."
Lilli, at one point set on becoming a music therapist like her mom, is more interested in chemistry. She's done well enough in school to consider it as a future profession, but isn't locked into her major just yet, she said.
For now, she'll set out to help other kids with cancer, knowing in faith it's too hard to predict exactly where life will take her.
"I think I am stepping towards something new, but it has been impacted by the past," Lilli said. "I'm really excited about it!"