Survivor Spotlight: Emily Whitworth


Emily Whitworth 2015.Perpetual

                         Emily Whitworth                                             Texas Christian University                                              Biology/Med School                         Wilm’s Tumor – 4-time survivor

“My experience as a helpless patient fearing for their life was made better by the many men and women who put me first and came up with methods to save me. They have made me want to go out and save lives just like mine.” These words, penned by Emily herself, display the depth of character brought on by a lifetime of experiences. No one should have a lifetime of experiences by the time she is 12, but Emily’s four diagnoses by that age gave her just that. Even so, Emily continues to hold sway over her own life, always excelling at school, playing softball, learning piano, and getting a cat.

However, it is the people who poked and prodded her in the hospital to whom she attributes such freedom and success. Thanks to them, not only is she alive today but also on track to save lives just like hers. “Those nurses, doctors, and specialists,” she says, “made sure I knew what was going on with my body.” Already having faced so much, Emily is poised to begin a new adventure at college so that she can go back and provide hope and health to other cancer patients.

Survivor Spotlight: Ben Seeley

Ben Seeley Chapman University Computer Science Osteosarcoma – 3-time survivor

                Ben Seeley
        Chapman University
          Computer Science
Osteosarcoma – 3-time survivor

When cancer hits, it hits hard, and no one knows this better than Ben. The first time Osteosarcoma struck him, it made him miss the entirety of sixth grade due to surgeries and chemotherapy. Right when Ben was beginning to feel confident toward the end of seventh grade the cancer returned. Already shaken from his first bout, the severity of the cancer forced Ben into a wheelchair for a year. School and sports were different. Life was different. Ben was more different, still.

As hard as cancer tried to overwhelm him – even coming back a third time – Ben was stronger. Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times was “a completely different world, one that even cancer can’t claim,” allowing Ben to restore his confidence and self-worth as he led other survivors to the same. He has since taken lessons in photography, art, and ceramics, even donating some of his work for cancer research fundraisers. His true love, though, is computers. When he was wheelchair-bound, he began playing video games and proceeded to build his own computer and became a staff member for a gaming network with a community of roughly 8 million people. Some of the people he has met online are now Ben’s closest friends. In his words, “my online life has helped me cope with my treatment, but what began as a coping mechanism became one of the most informative journeys of my life.”

Survivor Spotlight: Patrick O’Connor

Patrick O'Connor UW – Seattle Computer Engineering, minor in Physics Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia survivor

      Patrick O’Connor
            UW – Seattle
  Computer Engineering,                    minor in Physics
           ALL survivor

Life was good – really good – for Patrick in his final semester of high school. As a senior he already earned 75 college credits and was on the cheer squad at Eastern Washington University. School was winding down and with college on the horizon Patrick decided to look for an internship at a tech startup. That day, his life changed: “Instead of an internship and preparing for college, my next summer consisted of chemo, spending my 18th birthday signing release forms, losing hair, and not being able to attend graduation.”

All of the plans that Patrick had worked so hard to achieve seemed to slip from his grasp when he fainted at that tech fair and learned that he had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and necrotizing fasciitis in his left arm. Cancer broke in to mar and destroy, in the midst of so many milestones and celebrations, no less. Instead, Patrick faced cancer with his near-usual drive and enthusiasm that always served him so well in cheer and academics. “Cancer,” he says, “has taught me that contentment is essential to happiness.” Patrick focused on people’s generosity and caring attention on him in his time of need. Even as he continues to undergo treatment, Patrick is attending school and hopes to eventually design hospital software or research cancer in order to help and bring hope to others victimized by cancer.

Survivor Spotlight: Patrick Nissan

We truly never get tired of bragging on our awesome recipients, and this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of their accomplishments! Here is Patrick Nissan, one more of our 2015 perpetual scholarship recipients.

Patrick Nissan UC Santa Barbara Molecular Biology Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor

                        Patrick Nissan
                     UC Santa Barbara
                      Molecular Biology
      Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor

From the beginning, Patrick refused to let cancer negatively influence his life. Even as an 11-year-old with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma he recognized that cancer impacts families, not just individuals. As such, he took it upon himself to be strong for them during his treatment. His strength endured after he was declared cancer free, and he became very active in school and medicine. Even though he played tennis and participated in academic trivia club throughout high school, he found time to volunteer at the hospital ICU for two years, taking lab specimens to the lab and retrieving them from the blood bank.

Treatment involves more than just medicine, though. Patrick made it a point to interact with patients in the ICU, empathizing with them and letting them know that they are not alone. The people he comes in contact with are bettered not just by Patrick’s work ethic, but also by his genuine care and positivity. He hopes to continue the path he is on, and even go full circle, eventually returning to the medical field to “be a part of a team that improves the prognosis of a cancer diagnosis” at the same hospital that gave him his life back.

Survivor Spotlight: Lily Newton

It’s time to meet another one of our fantastic 2015 perpetual scholarship recipients. Join us in congratulating the ever-so-talented Lily Newton!

Lily Newton Tisch School of the Arts at NYU Film & Television Production Ewing's Sarcoma Survivor

                           Lily Newton
           Tisch School of the Arts at NYU
            Film & Television Production
             Ewing’s Sarcoma Survivor

Few people have the gall to face a cancer diagnosis better than Lily. Upon discovering that, at 14 years old, she had Ewing’s Sarcoma she decided to never be defined or described by her illness. This resolve served her through a tumultuous year of treatment, being buffeted back and forth between a world of adults and medicine and high school gossip and school projects. Lily beat cancer, though, with the help of friends, family, and doctors alike.

Lily told us that, “Any traits or features that defined me were so new and delicate that it’s impossible to say whether or not I’d still have them today, regardless of my illness.” However, her illness afforded her the chance, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, to observe and interact with Peter Jackson and the rest of the crew on the set of The Hobbit. Since that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Lily has begun creating her own films and is now attending one of the best film schools in the nation. You heard it here first: Lily Newton will be a household name in film and television!

Survivor Spotlight: Genesis Codina

Every year, we have the privilege of welcoming new scholarship recipients into the Cancer for College family. All of them work so hard to overcome cancer, and tenaciously dedicate themselves to doing their very best academically as well. We are so happy to get to know them as they begin an exciting new chapter at college.

We are already so inspired by them and could not keep them to ourselves any longer. This is the first in a series of six posts to help you get acquainted with the new 2015 perpetual scholarship recipients, who are each awarded our top scholarship for four years without the need to re-apply. Congratulations again to all of our new recipients!

Genesis Codina

UC Santa Barbara Business Thyroid Cancer Survivor

            UC Santa Barbara
      Thyroid Cancer Survivor

“A breath of fresh air.” Genesis is the kind of person you think of when you hear this phrase. But how can this be, when a cancer that was declared “easy” by her doctors is still not gone, three years after the fact? The answer is clearly due to Genesis’ selfless nature, and heartfelt desire to serve others who are similarly afflicted. Diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer when she was 15, Genesis has since endured multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation. More difficult than anything was learning that this cancer had struck a “cord” most previous: her vocal cords. The singing career that Genesis has been working toward for nearly a decade was now in jeopardy thanks to cancer.

Even so, Genesis chose to fight back and give back. Genesis uses her misfortune to smile upon others, volunteering with multiple childhood cancer and environmental relief organizations. Leadership in these areas has sparked her interest in business, which she is now formally studying at UC Santa Barbara with the intention to “start an organization to help support underprivileged families and kids going through what I went through because sometimes a little bit of support can make all the difference in the life of someone dealing with a deadly disease.” And don’t worry, even with such a full life ahead of her, Genesis has not given up on singing.

Taking Life in Stride: Travis Ricks & Thriving After Amputation

Here is a riddle to help get you through the day: A runner wins a race, but when he mounts the podium he has not one but two medals. Why?

Answer: because this is no ordinary runner. This is Travis Ricks: Cancer for College alumnus, amputee, and USA Paratriathlon National Champion! (The second “medal” was in his prosthetic leg, for those of you still working on the riddle). Yes, while cancer is a powerful deterrent, Travis’ will and determination to live life to the fullest refused be slowed down for long.


Even in high school Travis was very active, and was excited for the chance to compete in wrestling at the collegiate level, that is until he stepped into the ring against his most
formidable opponent: cancer. When he was 17 years old, Travis was diagnosed with a potentially fatal form of Osteogenic Sarcoma that attacked his knee and not only threatened to end his wrestling career but his life as well. It was at this point that Travis made the life-altering decision to amputate his leg above the knee.

No matter when cancer strikes, it always seems to go after what we hold most dear. From all the time he spent wrestling Travis knew he had two options after a blow like this: stay down or get right back up. It was not easy, but with the help of mentors like his wrestling coach Travis began to regain his footing and adjusting to life without one of his own legs. He eventually graduated from high school and, with the help of Cancer for College, went on to attend and graduate from CSU San Marcos with a BS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2007.

travis3It takes countless time and energy to recover from cancer, but most of all it takes the willing patience of friends to be with you to keep you going when you feel like there is nothing left in you. For Travis, that came from the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), which helped him achieve his dreams and live actively once again.

Now, Travis gets to do the same for other people with physical challenges as CAF’s Senior Programs Manager & Athlete Relations for the Greater San Diego Area. The projects he leads encourage other physically challenged people that they have not been given a life sentence but rather a life setback to an engaged, active, and fulfilling life.

CAF could find no better example for people than our Travis Ricks, who began competing in triathlons when he found CAF, and has since mounted the podium at the National Championships 3 times, winning gold in 2011. His goal now is to “make it to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games.” The road to Rio starts at the Paratriathlon World TravisRicks_t700Championships in Chicago on September 15-19. However, no matter what the results of that race, Travis is already guaranteed to go to Rio as a member of the USA Sitting Volleyball team.

So, next time you are in San Diego, make sure to say hi to Travis. Better yet, join him at a CAF event, cheer for him during the Paralympics next summer, or just ask him to take you to his favorite place for burgers and beer. But be quick! This Cancer for College alumnus is taking everything life has to offer, and running with it!