When 20-year-old Army private Anthony I. Sturks learned in December that he had cancer, he was determined not to let the disease interfere with one of his major goals -- getting a high school diploma.

Sturks, who had completed the 11th grade, began taking courses to prepare for the GED exam while stationed in Germany in 1979. But he didn't get around to taking the test until Virginia Artis, director of the adult education office at Walter Reed Army Hospital in the District, arranged for him to take it at the hospital earlier this month.

On Monday, Sturks realized his goal when acting D.C. School Superintendent James T. Guines presented him with the treasured GED certificate in a special ceremony in Sturks' hospital room.

After the crowd had left, the tall lanky young man sat quietly in a chair in a corner, smiling shyly and admiring the award.

He wore crisp new jeans. Because of his cancer, his right leg had to be amputated just below the knee, and the jeans were rolled up to that point.He also had on a navy blue wool cap; chemicals used in his treatment have made most of his hair fall out.

It's been a long, hard haul for Sturks, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Cleveland. He joined the Army at 18 because "I was getting into trouble, running the streets."

Shortly after he enlisted, Sturks began to experience pain and swelling in his right foot. Doctors first diagnosed his malady as athlete's foot, then a fallen arch, then arthritis.

The pain continued for two years, and doctors finally sent him to specialists at Walter Reed for additional tests last December.

Doctors there discovered he had a tumor in his leg. On Jan. 16, they took Sturks to the operating room to do a biopsy.They told him he might lose his foot if the tumor were very large. Sturks said that before the anesthetist put him under, "I remember asking if they were cutting off my foot . . . When I woke up, it was gone.

"I just wanted to be alone . . . I was mad," he said.

Three weeks after the operation, Dr. David J. Perry told Sturks his cancer had spread to his lungs. "I asked him if I would die. He said I might." Sturks said he had accepted the loss of his leg, but this last blow really shook him. "I took it real hard . . . I was scared to death."

Drs. Perry and Jeffrey A. Waxman explain that Sturks has a rare disease called malignant Schwannoma, cancer of the soft tissue coating of the nerves. The disease spreads quickly, is unpredictable and usually fatal. For the moment, it seems to have been arrested in Sturks by a four-drug chemotherapy regimen.

"He's really amazing," says Perry of Sturks' determination. The chemotherapy he has for one week each month makes him extremely nauseated, and Perry predicts he'll have to tolerate it for as long as a year.

Sturks now hopes his doctors will allow him to go home later this week and continue therapy at the Brooklyn Veterans Administration Hospital. "I want to party!" he shouts, smiling broadly.

He said his parents and younger sisters and brother are anxious about his return, but nervous about his cancer.

But Sturks is taking a positive attitude. He says he is thinking about his mother's fried chicken and greens . . . and getting "four years of college under my belt."