Cancer survivors seem to see life differently. Take 18-year-old Brittney Hall of Lordstown, for example. She looks at life as a gift, thankful for the people in her life.
A recent Lordstown High School graduate, she has a vision for her future that includes a degree in speech therapy. In her own words: "I want to be a light at the end of the tunnel for others."
Beth Hall, left, and her daughter Brittney sit together at their home in Lordstown. Five years ago, Brittney had her left eye removed because of spiral cell melanoma.
Five years ago, Hall's perception changed forever.
At 13, Hall got out of school early for a routine eye exam, excited about the prospect of picking out a new pair of glasses.
According to her mother, Beth Hall, Dr. James Martuccio saw something that alarmed him. On her daughter's left eye, the doctor saw a milky area - if it were a clock, between the hours of 2 and 6. Beth Hall said he could tell that whatever it was, it was being "fed" from somewhere.
The next stop was University Hospitals in Cleveland, and Brittney was not as excited for this appointment.
With an even higher-frequency camera, the doctor there was mystified.
"He was like, 'Oh, wow,'" Beth Hall said Thursday at her Lordstown home.
The concerned mother emailed her sister, a nurse at the University of Miami Health System, who in turn emailed a Dr. Timothy Murray at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami.
His response, on a Thursday, Beth Hall remembered, was, "Tell your sister to get her down here." So the family, including sister, Courtney, and father, David, rented a van, packed it up and headed to Florida.
That Monday, she saw the doctor. Murray, an ocular oncologist, scheduled a biopsy for Tuesday - a risky procedure that up to this point had been put off. The family was sent home to wait, and the biopsy was sent to five different testing sites, including the Mayo Clinic.
Two weeks later, a call came from Miami. The doctor wanted to see her immediately. This time, Brittney and her parents flew to Miami to find out that she had intro-ocular multifocal mela-noma, or spiral cell melanoma. She would need to have her eye removed within 30 days. Beth Hall said this cancer is aggressive - the next stop is normally the liver, after which the prognosis is not good.
Beth Hall said Murray delivered the news holding Brittney's hands. "He said, 'I have two goals for you, Brittney. One is to keep you alive, and two is to keep you beautiful.'"
The surgery was scheduled, and again the family went home to Ohio.
Brittney Hall began keeping a journal. She is still writing, and produced an essay called "My Story" that she hopes will help in her pursuit of college funding.
In it, she wrote: "I was distraught. I had no idea what was going to happen to me. If I was going to live or die? If I would make it to my 14th birthday? If I would have my sweet 16 and get my license? Would I turn 18 and graduate from high school?"
Brittney Hall had already been involved in the Relay For Life for a few years, even staying overnight at age 10. Her grandmother, Judy Hall, was involved through her job at the Village of Lordstown.
Judy Hall said the year of her granddaughter's surgery, Brittney and her friends were busy making bracelets for a fundraiser.
"In fact, she was making bracelets on the airplane on the way down for her surgery," Judy Hall remembered. "She had the surgery on Friday, so there she is with the patch on her eye. She says, 'You know, Grandma, I think if we get an early flight I could walk in the Relay.'
"I think that's amazing," Judy Hall said.
The whole family, along with that year's Relay team, wore shirts that said "Do it for Britt." Another year, the letters in "Britt" became an acronym for "bringing eye exams to teenagers and toddlers."
"Brittney, of course, was always our heroine. She's always been there for everybody, or she has a kind word for everybody she knows," her grandma said. "She's a real quiet person, but if you give her instructions, she'll work her butt off."
Judy Hall also said that "you would never know something's wrong with her."
It's true. She has eyes that challenge the painters of her porcelain prosthetic with their green, blue and yellow hues. She texts, even during newspaper interviews, and likes to hang out with her friends.
She drives, and she graduated. It's been five years, and all those milestones she wrote about missing, she's reached.
She's met a few roadblocks -painting her nails and going down steps were a little rocky at first.
"If people hand me something, sometimes I reach way out," she said. And even now, escalators are a big challenge. Otherwise, Brittney Hall said she hardly notices anymore.
"This is the year to really celebrate," her grandmother said about the five-year survivor mark.
Brittney Hall and her mother are in Florida this week for a checkup and a new prosthetic, which fits over an implant that was placed five years ago and was wrapped in donated tissue.
They've been to Florida a budget-draining amount of times - more than 40 - another reason the recent graduate is seeking scholarship dollars.
In 2003, Brittney Hall and her family were granted a trip to Hawaii through the Make A Wish Foundation. In fact, Beth Hall served as keynote speaker for the Big Wish Gala in Cleveland, helping to raise funds for the organization.
Yearly, Brittney goes to get a PET scan to screen the rest of her body for cancer, after which her mother stops holding her breath and moves ahead.
In her essay, Brittney Hall wrote: "I'm excited for my future, which I was almost certain I wasn't going to have."