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After a cancer diagnosis, he put his life on pause and moved in with his parents


We've been visiting multigenerational households on this program, and this is a story of a student in such a household who had to put his life plans on hold. Here's NPR's Claire Murashima.

CLAIRE MURASHIMA, BYLINE: William Cummings is 27 and lives with his dad and stepmom in Simpsonville, S.C.

WILLIAM CUMMINGS: I love my parents. Great roommates, right? (Laughter).

MURASHIMA: William went to Vanderbilt University right out of high school. Things didn't work out for him there, so he moved back home, started a retail job, hoping to buy a place of his own. According to Richard Fry at the Pew Research Center, he's not alone in doing that.

RICHARD FRY: It tends to be young adults who either stop their education at high school, high school dropouts or those who maybe attended college but did not finish at least a bachelor's degree.

MURASHIMA: For men without bachelor's degrees, their paycheck hasn't kept up with the rising cost of living over the past 50 years.

FRY: Effectively, it's become less affordable for them to be able to live independently.

MURASHIMA: And to make William's aspirations of living independently even more difficult, in the summer of 2020, he was diagnosed with leukemia.

CUMMINGS: Off the bat, my oncologist told me that most people who survive the treatment and transplant usually don't work for about two years afterwards.

MURASHIMA: He was in the hospital for about a month, and after being discharged, he needed care 24/7.

CUMMINGS: And my parents were gracious enough to, you know, without question, let me stay with them and take care of me while I was, you know, unable to take care of myself.

MURASHIMA: While recovering, William decided he wanted to go back to school, and it helped that everything was online. He first got his associate's (ph) degree, and now he's working on a bachelor's at Clemson University. Even though he's two years past his most intensive cancer procedure, his illness forced his family into roles of caregiver and care receiver, and he wants to break out of that.

CUMMINGS: You know, I would love to be able to take care of groceries or contribute to maintenance or do the things that they need done for them, you know, that they've been doing for me for so long.

MURASHIMA: It's also hard not to compare his life to others' when his twin brother has moved to Charleston, gotten married and become a parent.

CUMMINGS: He's the exact same age as me, but he's living a very different life. And I don't know if I necessarily would have, you know, had that family arrangement, but I think I would have moved maybe a little farther away and been living on my own.

MURASHIMA: Meanwhile, William says he feels like a guest in his parents' home.

CUMMINGS: I really feel like I don't allow myself to socialize. I wouldn't feel comfortable having people over very frequently, either. I feel like I need to respect, you know, their space, their routine as much as I can.

MURASHIMA: At 26, William got kicked off his parents' insurance and started receiving Medicaid. Although they are supportive of him living at home and he doesn't feel too much judgment from friends, he puts a lot of the guilt on himself.

CUMMINGS: So I think there's an internalized stigma that, at my age, I should be living on my own or with a partner, and I'm not.

MURASHIMA: But living at home has allowed him to stay close with his dad and stepmom and given him a second shot at college.

Claire Murashima, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claire Murashima
Claire Murashima is a production assistant on Morning Edition and Up First. Before that, she worked on How I Built This, NPR's Team Atlas and Michigan Radio. She graduated from Calvin University.