Beautiful, genuine, and strong, 18-year-old Emily Ferguson is proof that we have the choice to thrive no matter life’s obstacles. Just a high school senior, life has already taken a lot from Emily: an eye, two ribs, and part of a lung.

At 18 months old, doctors noticed a lack of response in her right eye. Testing revealed a very rare form of cancer called retinoblastoma. After rounds of chemotherapy, Emily’s parents had to decide to keep her eye at the risk of cancer returning or removing it.

“Since it was unlikely I would be able to see out of that eye again after treatment and the chances of remission were high, my parents opted for my eye to be removed,” Emily says, “And I would have made the same decision.” So far, it hasn’t been a hindrance to her.

Emily found herself back in the hospital at age 11. She had noticed a lump under her left arm about the size of a ping pong ball. After it continued to grow, more testing revealed another rare cancer diagnosis: Ewing’s sarcoma. It’s a tumor that grows in the bones or around the surrounding soft tissue. It was growing out of the third and fourth rib in Emily’s chest and was large enough to crush her left lung.

“How I was running around with only one working lung at that age, I do not know,” she laughs.

With another round of chemo and a weakened immune system, St. Jude Hospital and her school found a way for Emily to continue working at her own pace. By the end of fifth grade, she was able to return to school and had beat cancer again.

Emily enjoyed five years of remission before a check-up scan showed the return of cancer, this time in her right lung. With only a few weeks left of her sophomore year, she left for treatment that continued through summer and most of her junior year.

“It was a lot of planning and figuring out when I was awake enough to do schoolwork or be tutored—or if I just needed to sleep.”

Even though three bouts of cancer have taken parts of Emily, they’ve given her strength and determination. And despite doctors appointments and immense fatigue, Emily has fought her way to become a top-five female trap shooter in the United States.

Emily discovered the sport of trap shooting as a Freshman at a club booth. Trap shooting is a type of clay pigeon shooting where targets are launched away from the shooter from a single point. Other variations include skeet shooting and sport clays.

“My dad was over the moon when I decided to sign up for the team,” Emily says. The very next day he took her to the shooting range to practice and claims she hit her very first target. “To be honest, I don’t even remember, but I believe him,” Emily says.

Now in her fourth season of the sport, she became the first female shooter to win the Jeanette Rudy Cup. At the national level, she shot 199-of-200 targets.

“When I am shooting, it’s like a trance,” Emily says. Watching her in the zone shows her rocking back and forth, concentrating on her movement and energy. “It is a lot of lecturing yourself in your own head… It may be a team sport, but it is also extremely individual.”

Through her climb to the top, cancer has caused missed competitions and forced breaks. However, with the help of her team and coaches, Emily has never let this stop her from being a sharp shooter. 

As Emily looks toward her future after high school, she’s in full remission. She counts each day as a blessing and continues to live with a joyful heart. “Life is hard. It’s mean and cold-hearted, but it can be wildly beautiful if you let it.”

By Chloe Webster

Photo by Tindall Stephens