Since the Collegiate student was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer two years ago, she has become an advocate, encouraging others to get screened.
Joseph was too sick to attend her graduation on Friday, so her brother accepted her diploma and presented it to her at VCU Medical Center.
Jessica Joseph was 18 years old.
Collegiate student: Cancer made me slow down and appreciate each day
Joseph said her ordeal began one night in December 2016 while she was studying for an anatomy exam.
“It was some of the worst back pain I’ve ever had,” Joseph told Greg McQuade earlier this month.
Joseph thought she had the stomach bug, but following a battery of tests, doctors delivered the devastating news.
“That was a big shock to hear those words you have cancer for the first time,” Joseph said. “For me to hear it was really fast growing.”
For more than a year she endured rounds of endless chemotherapy and surgeries that were unsuccessful at eliminating her spreading cancer.
“It has metastasized,” Joseph said. “It was definitely disappointing to learn they could not get it all. It had to happen to someone and I guess that someone was me.”
Joseph once thought colon cancer was an "old man's disease," but startling new numbers show otherwise.
An American Cancer Society study shows the death rate for colorectal cancer among adults 20-54 has been increasing.
Joseph's surgeon, Dr. Brian Kaplan, said while it is rare to see a teen like Jessica diagnosed, he said he has seen a sharp increase in number of younger faces at VCU Massey Cancer Center.
“She is incredibly strong and courageous to have battled this over the last two years,” Kaplan said. “We unfortunately have patients in their 20s and 30s with colon and rectal cancer.”
When McQuade visited Joseph, the cancer had progressed to Stage 4 and oncologists said there was little they can do except to make her comfortable.
“Just been taking things one day at a time what I’ve been doing really. Just appreciate the little things,” Joseph said. “It made me slow down and I want to appreciate each day.”
The 18-year-old had so many plans.
“Lot of things I want to do. Drive down the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible or go to Jerusalem and write a prayer on the Western Wall.”
She recently married her high school sweetheart of three years in a simple ceremony.
“It’s sort of, you don’t have that much time to live, so why not. You love them. You should spend that time with them,” Joseph explained.
The high school senior made the most of the little time she had left and hoped sharing her story would help others get screened.
“It is important to get checked,” Joseph said. “Pay attention to your body. You know how your body is supposed to feel and when something is wrong with it.”
Susan Joseph said her daughter’s strength was unwavering.
“It is something that no parent should deal with their child go through this. Or to lose a child,” Susan Joseph said. “Jessica is incredibly brave to be telling her story. She is really committed to letting people know; particularly young people that this something that can happen to them.”
While cancer may have robbed her of life, Joseph remained strong.
“I’d like people to remember me as someone who was kind and cared about others. Fought hard and tried her best at everything.”
Click here if you wish to donate to a GoFundMe account established on her behalf.