SPOKANE, Wash. – One year ago, Ella McKeirnan mystified doctors by summoning the strength to deliver Gonzaga Prep's most powerful commencement speech.
It was just two months prior to graduation Ella had been going rounds with a nagging cough. Then the back pain swooped in. It was Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, that had worked its way into Ella's lungs, pelvis and arm.
That's when cancer pushed the pause button on college. As her classmates embarked on the next chapter of their lives, Ella focused on saving her own.
"I think I've definitely gotten a lot more perspective on just life," Ella said.
Ella spent much of the last year in the hospital through 14 rounds of chemo and two rounds of radiation.
"You just kind of have to accept being scared because it's such a scary process," she explained.
It is that kind of emotional muscle Ella used to kind of whack through the twisted underbrush of ugly days.
"Everyone has days where everything just feels awful. But then there's also always going to be days where something good is happening," she said.
When she steps back, she realizes she has likely learned more over the past year than she would have in a college classroom.
"I've been able to come in contact with so many more people that are struggling like me and just different types of people in their lives previously," Ella explained.
She said her own previous life was one with few struggles and adversity. One might say she has now dealt with her fair share and, at this point, time will tell if cancer will deliver more blows.
"It might be completely gone but it might not so we just have to see what happens," she said.
There are encouraging signs her body is embracing health.
“I've got a little more hair now. It's a nice little buzz cut but it's growing," she explained.
If her next scan in July delivers good news, Ella will head to the University of Washington in the fall. When she does, she will not focus on what she has missed and she will embrace what she has.
"Just like being able to go to school and be with your friends is such a blessing. Even just being able to sit at home and not be feeling bad is super nice. So I think I just kind of appreciate everything a little more," Ella said.
One year later, Ella still reminds us of the power of positivity and that good always lies ahead. If her classmates were here in the room today, they would surely be applauding again.