14 year old with terminal cancer gets honorary degree - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

14 year old with terminal cancer gets new life for last days

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

A 14 year old with terminal cancer has gotten a new life – if only for a little while.

Joy Epps is spending her last days surrounded by friends and family at Hospice Savannah. But within just this past week – Joy got a new name, a new dad, a new birthday and a college degree.

Joy wanted to be wanted.

"For 14 years, I never really had a daddy. He knew about me, and I knew about him, but I guess he didn't care," she said.

A year and a half ago, her mother married Bobby Epps. Bobby wanted to adopt her, but Joy's cancer took a turn for the worse. And in October, the family decided the slim chance of elongating her life wasn't worth the pain more treatment would cause.

"When we told her she only had a couple months to live - we've been up front about everything - she was happy," Joy's mother, Leslie Epps, said. "She wanted to come home and spend the rest of the days with her family."

Joy already has lived weeks longer than her doctors predicted. Her mother and the man who wanted to become her father didn't think they'd finish Bobby's adoption of Joy in time. But last week, a judge walked into her room at Savannah Hospice.

"I think the moving part that day was when the judge had come into the room, and the judge had her robe on," Bobby said. "I think she knew it was for real, and she lit up, and the judge made it her chambers and actually swore us all in. The thing that probably touched me more than anything is when the judge asked her did she want me to be her father and she said more than anything in the world."

But that's not the only thing Joy got that day. She also got a new birthday - even a new social security number and birth certificate.

"Three years ago on Jan. 18, I got cancer, and 14 years ago on Jan. 18, I was born, so it's kind of a good and bad day," Joy said. "And after that year, I went through a year of chemo and thought everything was going to be good for my next birthday because Christmas I was told it was done. And then Jan. 18 came again and so did the cancer, and it kept reoccurring on exactly the same day, and it just happened to be my birthday, so I asked the judge if there was any way I could change my birthday, and like I didn't think it was possible but just hoping, and they said they could. So I got a new birthday, a new daddy, and so I'm kind of a whole new person."

On Sunday, Joy fulfilled her dream of becoming the first person in her family to graduate college. Savannah State University gave her an honorary degree in marine biology. Joy has had a lot of life packed into a few days. She's tired, and plans to finish up the rest of her work in a better place.

"Everyone's supposed to have their own mansion when they get up into heaven," she said. "And I'm going to build mine just the way my family would like it, and we're gonna have a nice big yard, and everyone is going to have the perfect room, and I'm gonna make sure everybody's happy."

Patricia Kelly with Dorsey Tire is collecting money for Joy's funeral expenses. To donate, contact Kelly at 912.964.6798.

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