Cole Harrison focuses on faith in face of cancer

Cole Harrison, a Memphis, Tenn., Baylor student who was forced to put his college experience on pause due to a cancer diagnosis his freshman year, poses with San Antonio junior Allison Malcom, Tri Delta's philanthropy chair. Photo credit: Chandler Oestereich

By Brooke Bentley | Reporter

When a normal, fun-loving Baylor freshman went to see a doctor on Sept. 12 about a cough he had, he never would have dreamed the diagnosis would be the word “cancer.”

After running in the Baylor Line only a few times, Cole Harrison was forced to pack up his dorm room immediately, leave his newly-made friends behind and drive nine hours to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital located, coincidentally, in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn.

“The radiologist read the ultrasound and wanted him to go straight to the ER for a CT scan, and I’m a dentist and my husband is an orthodontist, so we had the medical knowledge to know that you don’t just send a healthy boy to the ER for nothing,” Leigh Harrison, Cole’s mother, said. “We called the ER doctor directly, and at this point I was wailing, you know, I was absolutely hysterical, and he said on the phone that after reading the first scan he thought it was going to be lymphoma.”

It was soon confirmed that Cole Harrison, who had hardly even noticed the lump on his neck, had lymphoma.

“My very first thought was of absolute dread,” Cole Harrison said. “I had found such a special group of friends that all sacrificed and loved each other like nothing I had ever seen, and I was about to be ripped away from that community. I wasn’t scared of dying, I never have been, but I was so afraid of that incredible group growing apart from me in the time that I’m away.”

Now receiving treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Harrison’s bravery through this hardship attests to his character, and his faith has played a large role in that, his mother said.

“I didn’t have to be afraid of the cancer because, through it all, God’s provision is perfect, so it is well. No matter what trials come, I’m God’s child, and God never lets harm overcome his kids,” Cole Harrison said.

Now in his hometown of Memphis, Cole Harrison stays with his family at their home and commutes to and from St. Jude during the week to receive treatment.

“As my friends, who were waiting in the emergency room with me, came in, all of my anxieties went away,” Harrison said. “I had prayed for so long for God to bring me true friends, and in the moment when they came in, having sacrificed their entire night to come and be with me in the hospital, I knew that God’s provision is perfect.”

Over fall break, a group of Baylor Tri Deltas took its annual trip to St. Jude Children’s Hospital, the sorority’s philanthropy, and spent time with Cole Harrison, bringing him a basket of Baylor gear.

Despite his condition, Harrison remains the fun and upbeat guy he has always been, teaching the Baylor Tri Deltas who visited how to “flounder,” a dance Harrison said he brought to Baylor, to a remix of one of his favorite songs, “Nothing but the Blood,” as well as swing dancing with the girls at dinner and convincing his mom to bring the girls donuts before they departed for Waco on Saturday.

“I was amazed by the amount of strength he portrayed throughout the day,” McKinney senior Amanda Pace, a member of Baylor Tri Delta, said. “This amount of energy, he told us time and time again, comes from God. Knowing he is being so trustful in the Lord is so comforting and motivating in so many ways.”

Harrison attributes his strength and joy to gratitude.

“I realized this summer at one point that deep down, I was one bitter dude. Nothing truly bad had ever happened to me, yet I still had this bitter core as if the world owed me something,” Harrison said. “However, I came to the realization that if bitterness wasn’t a result of bad things happening to me, it must be a result of my lack of gratitude toward the good things that I have been given, which far surpass the bad things, even now. From that point, I had one of my friends keep me accountable and ask me three times a day, ‘Cole, what are you thankful for?’ From that point on, the Lord has changed my heart radically, and I believe that it was truly in preparation for all of this.”

With the support of his friends at Baylor, including those Harrison called “the bald headed boys” who shaved their heads in support, Harrison said he is hopeful he can return to Baylor in January and resume his college experience.

“The way he was able to joke and remain so hopeful and joyful in what I am sure is the darkest time of his life spoke volumes,” Austin junior Sarah Brodsky, a member of Baylor Tri Delta, said. “He is such a special young man.”

Harrison’s up-and-coming blog, titled “Cole, from South Russell,” reached over 4000 views over fall break and demonstrates his powerful Christian message as a cancer patient, including a “Dear Satan” letter, which he signs as “A Son of God.” Prior to withdrawing from Baylor, Cole Harrison was a religion major, and his inspirational blog is a platform for him to let things out, despite his reluctance to start it, he said.

“Honestly, my mom pressured me into starting my blog, but after I started on my first post, it just kind of became an outlet to which I could let out the overflow of my heart,” Harrison said. “As one of my mom’s friends put it, ‘God gave Cole a platform that he really didn’t want to get, but he sure has used it well.’”

“I’m just looking forward to living life again with the people I care the most about. Getting to experience the ups and downs of life with such an incredible community was so incredible, and I can’t wait to be back and doing it again,” Cole Harrison said.

After withdrawing from the fall semester, Cole says he is hopeful to return to Baylor in the spring and only have to return to Memphis for a few treatments in January. Cole’s family will likely find out in November whether Cole will be able to return to Baylor in the spring.