ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Tyrone Brunson, 22, did not know what life would be like for him in college, but he knew he could not let his circumstances hold him back. Exactly four days after his first year at Claflin University, Brunson was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer in May 2017.
“The doctor said if I had waited two more weeks, I could’ve been gone. That’s when it really hit for me,” Brunson said.
After going to the hospital and receiving his MRI, the doctors discovered a mass the size of a softball located in the lymphatic system of Brunson’s chest, as well as excessive amounts of fluid around his heart.
“When I got the news, I really didn’t know what to think of it. I’d heard of the word, but I never talked to anybody who’s dealt with that before, so I was scared and nervous,” he said.
Once Brunson was diagnosed, he left Claflin in order to keep up with his chemotherapy and radiation process. In August 2018, Brunson was able to enroll in school again, but this time he chose to attend South Carolina State University.
“My first year at Claflin I had a scholarship, but I really wanted to go to SC State. I was already planning to transfer, but I was going to do it my junior year. Things just happened earlier than I thought,” Brunson said.
Through perseverance and lifestyle changes, Brunson managed to beat Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer within a year. He explained how once he learned that he had cancer, he changed his diet and got rid of a lot of unhealthy habits.
He also had his family and friends to thank for their motivation and kind words. During this tragic period in his life, his loved ones were always there for him and would frequently come to visit him in the hospital.
“I would definitely say my family kept me grounded, hands down. I had some former pastors and a lot of friends that came to check on me too,” Brunson said.
Brunson filled his free time by watching and listening to inspirational videos and podcasts to help him stay positive. He would try to do as much as he could to keep himself motivated and his mind off cancer. Even though he had to spend more time in the hospital than he had planned, it was important for him to keep his mind focused on the future and to not complain about his present situation.
“I realized that me never giving up on school and pushing through was really motivating for a lot of people because I didn’t look at myself as a victim, I looked at myself as a victor,” Brunson said.
When Brunson attended the university after beating cancer, he was a little self- conscious about his prior condition, but he wanted to do something that was going to continue to keep him motivated and challenge him, that’s when he decided to audition for the Henderson-Davis (HD) Players.
The HD players, the official drama guild for SC State, have produced more than 125 plays and won more than 100 national and international awards in different festivals and tournaments since they were established in 1967.
“When I tried out for the HD players, I was nervous, but it was a good nervous. I used to do a lot of speeches at church, so I already knew I could project my voice, but could I be in a play? So, when I saw the flyer, I thought of a speech I could do that I recited in church,” Brunson said. “After I auditioned and walked off the stage, I was thinking I might not get it, I didn’t know what I was going to get. When she ended up giving me the lead role, I really didn’t expect that.”
This was his first time trying out for a lead role in a play. Theatre was not something that Brunson always wanted to do in life, but it was something that he always enjoyed. He reminisced on the days he and his family would watch movies at home and try to reenact the scenes for fun.
“I said to myself, ‘I can really do this.’ It was basically like the same thing me and my family would do at home, I could just have fun here, and that’s what really got me into it. I’ve done a few plays before, but I never had a big role, it was always like an extra role,” Brunson said. “I just thought the lead role would go to one of the veterans of the HD Theatre, so when she gave me the lead role I was like, ‘OK, she really sees something in me.’ She really saw my potential and that I could go places. I really enjoyed it there.”
As time went on, Brunson became closer to his cohorts in the HD theatre, forming strong bonds and friendships. He recalled how they all used to go to the movies and go out to eat. The HD players were like a family of their own.
Between classes and theatre practice, Brunson said he had to learn how to manage his time. Even though he loved theatre, his grades were also important to him. When Brunson became an HD player, organization and time management became big factors in his life. He would set multiple alarms throughout the day to stay on top of his daily obligations.
“I really had to make sure I took my time management and organization more seriously. That paid off more than I expected. That’s what it takes. I had to be more consistent. I used to find ways to justify everything that I wasn’t doing, and that was basically hurting me. Everything I didn’t get done– I always had an excuse for it, but I knew I couldn’t keep doing that, especially in theatre,” Brunson said.
Brunson just received his bachelor’s in business marketing, and next month, he will be starting at Amazon as an area manager of operations. He expressed that even though he plans to move up in the company, he still has his mind set on his ultimate goal, which is to have his own construction business and be a motivational speaker. He also explained that as a business marketing major, the program helped him with his public speaking, confidence and presentation skills.
“I know I have to start small instead of trying to add everything to my plate and do a lot of things at once. That’s another thing life taught me, to focus on one thing at a time,” Brunson said.