Friday, 20 December 2019 14:17

UNC Pembroke’s SGA president refuses to let cancer define him

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Thomas Crowe-Allbritton delivers remarks during UNC Pembroke's 2019 Winter Commencement. Thomas Crowe-Allbritton delivers remarks during UNC Pembroke's 2019 Winter Commencement. UNCP

PEMBROKE — Thomas Crowe-Allbritton smiles in the face of adversity.

His journey to UNC Pembroke has been an uphill battle, but no matter the obstacle, he has persevered–all while maintaining his signature smile.

The senior social studies education major says overcoming personal challenges has molded him into the student leader he is today. 

Raised by his mother in Dothan, Ala., they moved all over the Southeast from Florida, back to Alabama, then Dallas. His high school years were spent in tiny Oxford, N.C. 

At 14, Thomas met his father for the first time. Leaving his mother’s home, he moved in with his father.   

That same year, Allbritton discovered what he thought was a cyst in his jaw which later was determined to be epithelioid hemangioendothelioma, also known as EHE, a rare form of cancer that affects the blood vessels and bone marrow. Tests revealed three tumors in his skull, two in his spine and that the blood vessels in his lungs were covered with bean size tumors.

He underwent round after round of chemotherapy throughout high school. Treatments stopped before the beginning of his sophomore year at UNCP because he couldn’t afford the $6,000 per month prescription.

“I’m fine. I’m very healthy,” he said, flashing a wide grin. “For me, my diagnosis has always been a motivating factor. I have this disability, but I don’t let it affect me. It doesn’t define who I am. 

“I let it inspire me.”

Allbritton, who has also battled depression, uses his cancer diagnosis as motivation for others dealing with similar health issues. 

 “The diagnosis forced me to take a look at myself and see what I’m doing with my life. I don’t know how long I have because it’s such a rare cancer. I might have it for the rest of my life and live healthy. I might die when I’m 30. It’s important that I focus on the time I have now and do as much as I can for others.”

He came to UNCP to pursue his love of music and the trombone. He joined the marching band and honor choir, but quickly developed an equally strong passion for the humanities, turning his attention to history, politics and social studies. 

“I’m very big-picture oriented, so I feel like I can impact the world more through teaching social studies and being involved in politics than I can as a musician or teaching marching band.”

At the urging of his friends, he immersed himself in the Student Government Association, working his way up the ranks to student body president. He’s an advocate for many causes with his main focus being voter rights. He wants students to have a louder voice in the campus community. 

“We are nearly 8,000 strong. With Pembroke growing, students have the power to say what they need whether it be downtown revitalization or incoming businesses. I’m here to make sure their voices are heard. A lot of the town’s growth is because of the enrollment growth.”

As the voice for roughly 7,700 students, Allbritton is highly visible on campus, serving on committees and organizing events while keeping up with numerous public appearances.     

Looking back, he admits his college experience transformed him into a mature, responsible adult.

“If you met me my freshman year, I was a completely different person. It was UNCP that really changed me into the man I am now. At the end of my first semester, I had a 2.3 GPA and I didn’t care about classes. It was the people at UNCP, the faculty and staff who inspired me and showed me that I have this potential.”

With a career as a teacher ahead of him, Allbritton wants to be the source of inspiration for students, like himself, who face adversity at a young age. 

But, Allbritton doesn’t want to go far to have that impact. He hopes to teach in southeastern North Carolina, possibly Robeson County, after he graduates, giving back to this community who he credits with shaping his future.