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Leukemia survivor graduates from MSU, celebrates with medical team

Walker was a runner with dreams of running at Michigan State. Then leukemia entered her life.
Walker was a runner with dreams of running at Michigan State. Then leukemia entered her life.
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 9:51 AM EDT
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - More than 9,600 people earned their degrees from Michigan State University over the weekend.

Darby Walker is one of them and is celebrating with the medical team who helped get her there.

She was the typical teen: adventurous, energetic, and eager. Then, at the cusp of 15-years-old, her life changed.

“He looks at me and he goes, ‘Darby, I’m so sorry to tell you this but, you have leukemia,’” Walker said, recalling when doctors informed her of her diagnosis.

Related: ‘Back to normality’ -- Michigan State University class of 2022 commencement ceremony held at Breslin Center

What followed was three years of treatments, three years of spending her teenage years growing up with four corners of the hospital room as her bedroom.

“I was running a lot and I started to notice that I was really tired and I was really out of breath,” Walker said. “I was having a hard time breathing.”

Walker was a runner with dreams of running at Michigan State. Then leukemia entered her life.

“The world stopped spinning,” she said. “I just remember being so shocked and I was like ‘there’s no way that’s possible.’ It’s never you until it is.”

Walker experienced the typical symptoms of leukemia - fatigue and difficulty breathing. Darby’s parents, Rick and Shawn, were by her side the entire time. Her dad recalls what he felt when he heard the news.

“Anxiety, of course,” Rick said. “Fear, just every gamut of emotion went through us.”

But for Darby, it wasn’t the treatments or months spent in the hospital that got her through. It was the people that saved her life.

“With us as a team, all of our kids tug at our heartstrings,” said Cheri Salazar a pediatric nurse practitioner at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, where Darby spent the majority of her treatments. “When they are ill, we feel it with the families.”

Salazar wasn’t just Walker’s nurse, they also grew to be best friends.

“Because of the beautiful woman that she is, and her tenacity and her smarts, she decided she wanted to go to MSU and that was her wish,” Salazar said. “Her make a wish was to get tuition assistance to MSU.”

On Friday, May 6, she graduated from Michigan State – leukemia-free.

“It’s incredible,” Darby said. “I can’t believe it. I want someone to come up in pinch me. I feel like I’m dreaming that I’ve graduated college.”

Darby now heads to Los Angeles for an internship with a beauty company later this month.

Next: ‘The greatest experience of my life’ -- Michigan State University mascot graduates

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