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Woman diagnosed with cancer at 17 defies odds, graduates college

In 2010, Ashanti Pitts was a normal 17-year-old who dreamed of graduating from high school and going to college. She had her sights set on attending Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Her mom, Kenita, had big dreams as well. Kenita enrolled at Claflin, too, so she could graduate college alongside her daughter.

But their dreams seemed in jeopardy when Ashanti received devastating news. She had a tumor in her foot. Doctors diagnosed her with bone cancer at one of the most pivotal times of her life. 

Nevertheless, Ashanti and Kenita were determined to push through it together. They both stayed enrolled at Claflin. But soon after Ashanti moved into her dorm room, more bad news arrived.

"The doctor came back in and told me that the tumor in my foot spread to my lungs, and that I had seven tumors in my lungs," Ashanti says. "Literally, I had to withdraw from Claflin, move all my things out of the dorm, and the next morning I had surgery on my left lung and had the biggest tumor removed."

She says she felt like her world was falling apart. "I became very depressed. I became very helpless," Ashanti told CBS affiliate WLTX. "I lost faith in myself. I lost faith in God. Honestly I did. I stopped going to church for awhile because I kept asking God, 'Why me?'"

Ashanti's mom said it was hard for her to focus on her own dream of graduating college. "It is rough to see your child hurting and you can't do anything," Kenita Pitts said. "That's a terrible feeling. I was just ready to quit because she was more important. A lot goes through your mind. She said, 'No, you will not quit and you're going to do it.'"

Three years later, Kenita graduated Claflin and fulfilled one of her dreams. But, she still had her sights set on another dream for her daughter. Kenita wanted Ashanti to graduate as well. 

The mother-daughter duo says prayer and faith helped Ashanti make it through treatment and defy the odds. "Statistics said she wouldn't make it past the age of 22. At 25, she's here," her mom said.

And now, Ashanti has earned her degree in Claflin University's graduating class of 2018. 

She says the struggle taught her a lot. "Use it as inspiration and motivation to push through because you just never now what someone else is going though at all. There's so many people on this campus and in life that are going through things. All the glory goes to God at the end of the day," said Ashanti.

"No matter what the doctors say, God has the last word. Cancer is not a death sentence," Kenita said.