Flashback Friday: “Not Even Cancer Can Stop Me”

What is more difficult to comprehend than the complexity of the human brain, how it interacts with the rest of the body and mind to create a unique person? The scientific community is only just beginning to grasp how billions of neurons work together to keep our bodies, and personalities, alive and well. Throwing cancer into the mix throws the balance of this complex organ into chaos and can transform someone into an entirely new person.
This month is Brain Cancer Awareness Month, and we want to do our part to bring to light some of the effects of this terrible type of cancer, while bringing hope to those who are in the midst of a battle with this disease. It is entirely possible to heal and thrive after such a battle – we know this because 61 of our awesome recipients are brain cancer survivors! One of them, Dalton Bouchles, allowed us to share some of his story on the blog last year, and believe that his story is so encouraging that we wanted to share it again with you today.
Take a look at his story, and remember that through trials and challenges, even brain cancer, there is always hope for you to battle through it all and victoriously stand tall on the other side, ready to accomplish your dreams.
“My dream has always been to attend college,” wrote 19-year-old Maine resident Dalton Bouchles last year in his Cancer for College scholarship application. “However, once I found out I had cancer, that dream became blurry.”
At age 18, Dalton was diagnosed with craniopharyngioma, a brain tumor which develops near the pituitary gland, at the base of the brain. He underwent surgery to remove the tumor but suffered many physical and cognitive impairments from the procedure.
“At this point in my life, I was unsure as to whether or not I would be able to attend college like I had originally planned,” Dalton continued.
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But Dalton would not be deterred, not even by something as ominous as brain cancer. Following is his story in his own words.
I worked very hard in high school to prepare myself for college. I maintained an A average, participated in many school activities such as Key Club: as a member, president, and Lieutenant Governor for my division. I was a member of Boys’ State, National Honor Society and a Student Representative for the MSAD #52 School Board during my senior year. For sports, I was a member of the golf team and enjoyed two years participating on the soccer team. I am very proud to be a 2012 graduate, ninth in my class at Leavitt Area High School.
In the Fall of 2012, just three weeks before I was due to head out to Worcester Polytechnic Institute for my first year of college, I was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor, a craniopharyngioma. How the diagnosis came to be was through a routine eye exam, which showed swelling on my right optic nerve. An MRI the next day confirmed the eye doctor’s suspicions and revealed the tumor which attached itself to my pituitary gland. The surgeon gave me four days to get my things in order and then I was in the hospital having brain surgery to remove the large tumor from the center of my brain and save my life. Those four days between diagnosis and surgery were filled with shock and fear. I knew from this day forward that my next four academic years as well as my future life plans were about to change.

Surgery did not go as planned. Due to the tumor’s size and location it created surgical complications, resulting in a two month hospital stay. Each day held many challenges for me, which included occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy. While all of my friends went on to college and started the next chapter in their future, I have spent the last two years of my life in rehabilitation and recovery. Because of the type of tumor, its size and where in the brain it was located, the surgery has left me with substantial physical and neurological impairments. Most significant are my vision loss and cognitive challenges. I still have all my marbles, but I have to work harder to process and organize information. I lost over 80% of my vision and now I am visually impaired and partially sighted, which has left me unable to drive, limiting my mobility.

Due to the tumor and its effects, it has made Worcester Polytechnic Institute no longer a viable option. The cognitive impairments now limit my ability to attend school as a full-time student. I am now working on a degree two classes at a time, allowing me to reach my dream of going to college. Although the tumor has slowed my education, it will not stop it. Along the way, I have remained a very positive person and a hard worker.

I have always felt that education was a top priority in life. It opens up many doors and possible careers that would have not otherwise been available. I want to go to college, receive an education and walk through one of those doors myself. Nothing, not even cancer, is going to stop me. I pushed myself hard in therapy from day one in order to get as close as I can to where I was before surgery and get back on the college track. The tumor was a roadblock that I overcame and now I am where I am supposed to be, heading back to college.

Nothing, not even cancer, is going to stop me.

Dalton is currently attending Central Maine Community College and enrolled macroeconomics and critical thinking. We applaud your fighting spirit and determination, Dalton, and wish you the very best of luck in all that you do!

To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors like Dalton, please visitcancerforcollege.org

 


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.

Survivor Spotlight: Maggie Brilhart

Today is the day Friday the 13th becomes known as a lucky day. I am sure of it. Do you know why? Because today we are preparing to celebrate 6 years of providing scholarships to cancer survivors in North and South Carolina with our 6th Annual Casino Night in the Carolinas fundraiser. Not only do we get to provide scholarships to students all over the United States, but we have people from coast to coast who are just as committed as we are to fighting the effects of cancer and launching dreams. Tonight, we get to come together once again to make more college dreams come true.

One of the people who will be in attendance at Casino Night is well known in the Cancer for College family. Maggie Brilhart is returning to join us as a CFC alumna, winning a Carolinas scholarship twice, and graduate of the South Carolina College of Pharmacy as a Doctor of Pharmacy! Many of you will be able to speak with her in person at the event, but we did not want anyone to miss out on getting to hear about her experiences since graduating. Even though she is busy working, Maggie was kind enough to send us an update on her life. She is such a great writer, and her compelling story speaks so much of her courage and refusal to let cancer drag her down. Check out her story below:

As we make our way into May, I think of so many important events that have occurred since I received my first Cancer for College scholarship in May of 2012. I was a second year pharmacy student who had recently been diagnosed with stage IIIA melanoma. Since then, I have graduated from pharmacy school, moved from South Carolina to Houston, Texas, gained a sister-in-law and brother-in-law, completed a year long pharmacy residency, moved to a new state, and accepted my first “real” job. May is an important month for me because it is melanoma awareness month. While most other people are gearing up to lay out by the pool and bake in the sun, I am buying sunscreen in bulk. Too many people forget that melanoma is the most common cause of cancer-related death in women aged 29 – 34, and that it is often preventable. The month of May should serve as a reminder to protect your skin and have it checked regularly, regardless of complexion, hair color, or age.

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Maggie (right) with her mom and sister

The past year has been full of changes and adjustments. In June of 2015, I progressed to stage IV melanoma and simultaneously finished my pharmacy practice residency at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Due to this progression, I took time off to rest and recover. Unlike the rigorous schedule of residency, I now had the time to tour Napa Valley with my sister, visit friends up and down the east coast, and celebrate weddings with friends and family. In the fall, I felt ready to go back to work, and accepted an outpatient oncology pharmacist position at Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina. The transition back into independence and going back to work was easily the best experience I have had in the last year.

Working as an oncology pharmacist has been a goal of mine for several years. I was already in pharmacy school when I was diagnosed, but as soon as I spent time volunteering and working with cancer patients, I was hooked. I find that cancer patients are grateful, hopeful, inspiring, and tough. I sought opportunities in oncology and was very fortunate to match at MD Anderson, surrounded by some of the best oncology teams and researchers in the country. At my current job, I am able to work with doctors, their teams, and patients. We work on chemotherapy planning, patient counseling, and coordination of care, among other things. It is the best way I can think of to help support patients while fulfilling my personal goals through my profession.

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Maggie and two of her co-workers from Wake Forest Baptist Health.

For all of the new scholarship recipients, congratulations! I hope that you are able to enjoy the full experience of college. Having been through cancer, we all have learned, one way or another, that life is a gift. Though I didn’t go into college with that experience, my advice is to keep your priorities straight, but always make time for fun. Pursue interests and hobbies, and search for a major or even a career that makes you feel fulfilled and proud. And lastly, enjoy it, because the real world is tough (but lets be serious – who is tougher than you??)

That is the truth! There is no one tougher than you, and Maggie is a hopeful example for every cancer survivor who is determined to achieve their dreams despite cancer’s attempts to derail them. See you tonight, Maggie!

To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors like Maggie, please visit cancerforcollege.org. You can also make an impact specifically in the lives of students either from or attending school in North or South Carolina by donating to the CFC Carolina Scholarship Fund at crowdrise.com/CAROLINAS.


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.

The Constant Caregiver: Happy Mother’s Day

I am a mama’s boy, and proudly so. It is impossible to be otherwise when my mom has been the single greatest influence in creating my love of learning, reading, exploring, cooking…essentially everything imaginative in my life stems from the infectious joy my mom imbued to me through the years. She taught me how to not only endure challenges, but to pursue them because only through great success AND failure would I become stronger.

But I am also a mama’s boy because my mom was my constant caregiver as I fought cancer, as we fought cancer because she took on just as much pain and stress from the disease as I did. A mother’s greatest pride and fear are often simultaneously wrapped up in her children, and when I was threatened I experienced the full force of love and strength that only a mother can offer in a crisis.

  • Through silent — and often secret — tears, she journaled a combination of thoughts, prayers, and medical side effects the week she learned of my diagnosis.
  • With grit, she overcame her lifelong fear of needles in order to become my at-home nurse and administer my shots, as that was a condition of being discharged.
  • And with a mischievous grin she snuck me out of my hospital room in the middle of the night so we could watch a rare and awesome lightning storm from the playground lawn.

 

These memories are both unique and shared, as nearly all of our recipients fought cancer with the help of their mom. We asked a few of them for a special memory of their mother that we could share on this special Mother’s Day. Take a moment today to read those memories below, and then share your own Mother’s Day memory (or photo) in the comment section.

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Happy Mother’s Day! My mom with all of her kids and grandkids.

 

Sarah McNeil:

My mom was a constant source of strength for me during my treatments. I could always tell from my hospital bed which footsteps were hers coming down the hall of Levine Children’s Hospital. The mothers (and fathers and other caregivers) of children with cancer face a seemingly insurmountable number of obstacles and hardships. Most people never hesitate to call me a “survivor”, but I would not have been able to endure my treatments without my mom’s selfless love to sustain me. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I am so grateful for you, and I love you so much.

 

Jackie Balliot:

I remember the day I was diagnosed, my family arrived at a hotel near the hospital late at night in preparation for the confirmatory scans the next day. My mom looked me straight in the eye and said “you are going to beat this, and a few years from now this is going to bring you so many amazing opportunities. you will get through this.” And of course- she was absolutely right! I love you Momma!

 

Anna Kellner:

When I was little, my mom was the sun and the stars. I thought that the entire universe revolved around her – her voice, her freckled skin, her attitude. She’d always sing to me while she cooked; our house was perpetually full of music. At some point, it became ritual for us to sing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” together because no wind and no rain could keep us from each other. But then I grew up and when I was sixteen, the whole house was silent. It was the night before my first chemotherapy treatment and the silence was unbearable. We were all terrified and uncertain but there was one thing I knew for sure… There wasn’t a mountain high, valley low, or river wide enough to break our family. So I turned up that song as loud as I could and I danced down the stairs to my mama, singing at the top of my lungs, and she raced into the hall with her arms open wide and sang with me.

That’s one of those moments that I will tell my children and my children’s’ children about because it was so real and intense. It was the moment that I knew my mother’s love would never fail me.

Happy Mother’s Day, lady. I love you!

To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors, please visit cancerforcollege.org

 


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.

Quinceanera for College

Time flies when you are having fun, and I had A LOT of fun over the past week. What did I do? What was so important last week that I completely ignored posting a new blog? In case you do not follow Cancer for College on Facebook , Instagram , or Twitter  you may not have heard that last Friday we hosted our biggest event ever! And it was incredible.

With the help of our ever-awesome spokesman, Will Ferrell, we partnered with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and their charity, Silverlake Conservatory of Music to unleash Will Ferrell & Chad Smith’s Red Hot Benefit Comedy + Music Show & Quinceanera. Such an audaciously-named event was accompanied by a cadre of talented comedians and an all-star lineup of drummers, and you can read a great recap of the actual event on Rolling Stone; today is also the last day you can watch the entire drum-off on Funny Or Die. You do not want to miss the opportunity to see this clash of world-class drummers.

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The stars of the quinceanera, Chad Smith & Will Ferrell. || Photo by Andy Keilan

As a new employee of Cancer for College, this was the first time I was involved in the preparation of such a massive event. Backstage, there was not a moment before, during, or for hours after the show that there were not teams of intently focused people running around making sure every detail was perfect. From production experts to volunteers, no hands were idle the entire day, but what surprised me most was that some of those hands belonged to the very people who were performing in front of a packed house later that night. There was no distinction between celebrity and people like me backstage as everyone was equally committed to making the night amazing.

People in the audience that night were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime combination of music and comedy, and we have heard many different “favorite moments.” My favorite moment, though, was one that you could only have seen if you were backstage. It was when I got to see Will Ferrell interacting with one of the Cancer for College recipients who volunteered to help out at the show. This recipient had met Will years before when she first found out that she had won a Cancer for College scholarship, and now they were both working together to ensure that many more cancer survivors would be able to achieve their dream of a college education, and get back to thriving after cancer.

It was a great reminder that amidst the thunderous drumming and raucous laughter (after seeing Will Ferrell don a sparkly, baby blue quinceanera dress) everyone was there to show support for cancer survivors they have not even met yet. Simply buying a ticket, getting involved, and using your gifts is all that is required to make a lasting difference in someone’s life. So, after you are finished watching the drum-off (click here) why not head over to cancerforcollege.org to either make a donation or see how you can get involved in one of our next events. Plus, don’t you want to say you were involved in the event that was somehow just as good as a quinceanera for a couple of old, white guys?


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.

Survivor Spotlight: Ryan Freydig

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Did Robert Frost, who penned these famous words exactly 100 years ago, know that he had just immortalized humanity’s heart? This is not indicative of one of the thousands of ordinary choices we make every day, but an extraordinary one made mostly by a gut-feeling and bated breath. Speaking with Cancer for College recipient, Ryan Freydig, this week forced me to remember how much bravery is required to take your life into your own hands and take the road less traveled. And just like Robert Frost, Ryan is able to look back on all the decisions that he made in the past 4 years and know that he chose well.

Back in 2008, Ryan had just received the news that he was finally in full remission after his battle with testicular cancer. Ready to leave that sickness behind him and charge, full steam ahead, into college and normal life, he quickly applied and was accepted in CSU Long Beach. But, as so many families have discovered, the cost of college is often just too much to fathom. Then something amazing happened

Ryan loved baseball, but when he was struck by cancer there was no way he was healthy enough to compete. So, it was momentous when he stepped back onto the field to play in his first game since beating cancer. The LA Times caught wind of Ryan’s story, came out to this game, and printed an article about his great comeback from cancer and the effects of chemo. Cancer for College heard about this and called Ryan to let him know about our scholarships for cancer survivors; it was the first time Ryan had heard about such a thing
and he hastily applied. After that, all he could do was wait.

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Ryan and his wife, Whitney.

And then it happened. Ryan got a call not only letting him know that he got a scholarship from Cancer for College, but that he would receive one of our coveted perpetual scholarships! College was possible again! Off he went to make all of his dreams of a college education come true. Nothing could stop him now. Nothing except an unexpected fork in the road. The kind of fork that Frost depicts in his poem: a fork that redefines dreams and helps you discover what you want, and who you are.

 

Ryan was in the midst of a great college experience, studying business and doing well, when he was given the opportunity to begin a career. He leaped at the chance to earn money and experience in the “real world” instead of sit in classes that would teach him how to earn money in the “real world.” So, Ryan left college and embarked on an entirely new adventure: working for AAA of Southern California, putting his business savvy to good use generating executive reports and ensuring that all claims are handled smoothly and efficiently.

 

Around the same time, Ryan met the woman who would later become his wife. Whitney was like a jolt of electricity, a breath of fresh air, and a drink of cold water that awoke Ryan to the possibility of life far north of normal. He was working full-time and had met someone who he felt like he could share an incredible life with. When you meet that person who turns your life upside down, and you realize life is better that way, it feels impossible to live any other way. Ryan not only came back from cancer, he was living life fully, in such a way that made up for time lost when he could not focus on anything besides fighting cancer.

Needless to say, Ryan took the road less traveled, said “sayonara” to college at CSULB, and started life with Whitney.  He and Whitney also have a son, Ryan Jr., and the three of them literally live out the life Robert Frost espoused as avid outdoor adventurers. They constantly go on hikes and camping trips around their Southern California home, and try

to visit as many state and national parks as possible. He also has dreams of someday returning to school to attain a degree in information systems, but feels there is no hurry as he is living a good life already.

 

Ryan, we cannot wait to hear what happens next. For everyone staring at a fork in the road, wondering whether or not you should trust your gut and venture out into the unknown, this story is for you. Great things await those who are brave enough to say “yes” to what they know is right, instead of simply following in the footsteps of those around you.   

To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors like Ryan, please visit cancerforcollege.org


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.

Take A Leap!

This week, a friend sent me the story of a woman who defied all odds to live, and it all started when she fell 50 feet, was hit by a car, and diagnosed with cancer. Truly inspiring!

You might already be wondering how such a violent and tragic story could be so inspiring, and before you post that comment telling me to get my brain checked you need to know that I am inspired not by the beginning of Megan Sullivan’s story but by the end, and how much perseverance it took for her to retain her adventurous spirit in the midst of cancer.
Megan's story

When you receive a cancer diagnosis, it feels like a suckerpunch: physically you cannot seem to catch your breath or maintain your focus; mentally and emotionally it feels like all of your dreams, goals, and future are indefinitely put on hold; and spiritually you may feel abandoned. In that moment, and many to follow, any semblance of the adventurous spirit you had before is sidelined to give you strength to endure the cancer treatment. However, like Megan experienced, cancer does not need to crush all of your hopes and dreams, but can be the fuel to start them sooner rather than later.

Is this even possible? Not only is this possible, it has been done before by some of our very own Cancer for College recipients! Our focus is, and always will be, providing hope and inspiration to cancer survivors, and when we get to provide a college scholarship to a deserving survivor we believe that we are helping to alleviate some of the burden shouldered by them and their loved ones. But that is only part of the story, because oftentimes the community of like-minded, forward-thinking cancer-haters that accompanies the scholarship helps provide the “oomph!” necessary to launch a passion.

 

12322901_962987567129331_7143590737415758127_oTake it from Kalina Campion, whose victorious bout with cancer is so recent that her hair is still recovering. She, and her sister Kiana, make up the band Rocky’s Revival, which has played at multiple Cancer for College events in the past year AND opened for Andrew McMahon at 2 different House of Blues venues around the country. Even better, Rocky’s Revival recently released a successful EP, Newspaper Dream (available on iTunes and Spotify), and Kalina is currently competing to be the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Woman of the Year!

 

Still not convinced?

hpusda344837x004_r900x493Okay, then let me tell you a little bit about Taylor Kaczmarek. Back in 2012, Taylor was playing college baseball and had just been drafted by the Kansas City Royals when he was diagnosed with ALL and had to put his entire life — baseball and all — on hold. Throughout his cancer treatment, he maintained his intense passion for baseball and worked out while he was in the hospital. And when his return to college baseball was threatened by a lack of credits, Cancer for College stepped in and made it possible to kick (or throw) start his pitching again. Now, Taylor is in the midst of his final season at USD, about to graduate, establishing himself as a mentor for another baseball player who is battling cancer, and looking forward to what comes next.

Now, it is your turn. Are you ready to put your passions on the backburner, or will you turn up the heat and make today the day that you choose to retain your adventurous spirit no matter what type of cancer stands in your way?

Choose the latter; you are in good company.

To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors like Kalina and Taylor, please visit cancerforcollege.org


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.

Survivor Spotlight: Max Mueller

Author, Wendell Berry, believes life’s ultimate anchor point is not time, as many people believe, but, rather, place. The right place has the power to invoke an immediate sense of belonging, whereas time requires…well, time to do the same. Why does this matter, dear reader? For Max Mueller, a Cancer for College perpetual recipient from 2008-2010, it is exactly what turned his life into a story worthy of a Hollywood movie.

Max grew up surrounded by France. He did not live in France, nor was he French, but his parents’ Francophilia seeped into his bones and created in him a love for the French, known the world over for its exquisite taste and unique culture. So, when Max got the chance to participate in an exchange program back in 2006, he leapt at the chance and embarked on a journey that would impact his life forever.

 

IMG_6076Just 8 months into his stay, Max felt like he had to go to the doctor to check out a lump he had found. With his ever-present homestay mom there for support, Max was given the terrible news that he had testicular cancer. The doctors thought it would be fairly easy to treat, as far as cancer goes, and once Max flew back to the US they removed the infected testicle and they thought that would be it. However, a short while later Max was back in the hospital and finding out that the cancer had returned and had grown so much that it was pushing on his gall bladder and causing great discomfort. This time, chemo had to be used to rid Max’s body of the tumor. They were successful, and Max began a second, long journey: this one taking him not to another country, but back to full health.

For the first time since finding out he had cancer and being forced to quit his time in France early, Max could breathe and think about what just transpired in his life. One moment he is studying and traveling throughout France, engrossed in a culture and language that felt like second-nature, and the next he is lying in a hospital bed receiving treatment for testicular cancer. In the blink of an eye, Max became a member of a club that no one wants to join: he was now a cancer survivor. Everyone who has survived cancer knows that even after beating the disease, there is still a chance that the cancer will return, and so you have to receive regular checkups for 5 years until the doctors are certain there is a negligible chance of recurrence.

What was Max to do? College was just around the corner but cancer derailed any plans he may have had of finishing his studies in France. With more positivity than most could muster when their plans go awry, the Santa Cruz native chose to stay close to home and his hospital to attend UC Santa Cruz. It was at this time that the other price of cancer came in, and Max reached out to Cancer for College in order to help mitigate the high cost of college. Not only was Max granted a scholarship, but he and his application stood out so much that he became one of the Cancer for College perpetual scholarship winners, receiving our highest award every year until graduation.

France made another appearance in Max’s life in college, when Max decided to earn a degree in linguistics, and chose French as his language of focus. Little did he know that this “language of love” would soon sway the focus of his heart, as well. As most college graduates nowadays learn, you must go with the flow in order to make your way in the world. After graduating from UCSC in 2010, Max moved to LA and worked his way up in the restaurant industry, soon becoming manager of a renowned ice cream shop in Santa Monica.

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It was during this time that Max’s attention was drawn to pastries, or more specifically, to the woman named Charlotte making the sweet delicacies. Beautiful, talented, and raised in (you guessed it) France, Charlotte was a French-trained pastry chef with a knack for adventure. The two began to date, but were soon drawn apart when Charlotte went back to France. It was not until she returned that the two rekindled their relationship, fell in love, and were married just 6 months later.

“It is hard to believe that love stories that feel straight out of a movie actually exist, but it really did happen to me,” Max said, speaking about his fateful his reunion and marriage to Charlotte.

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That was three years ago, and Max and Charlotte are still living out their dreams together. Both are working for the same restaurant group in Santa Monica, and are continuing to move up in the industry. Max has just accepted another promotion that will take him back to the Huckleberry Café, where he began working and met Charlotte. Even though they remain very busy at work, they have found time to return to France. Not only do they visit some of Charlotte’s family who are still living in France, but they also remain connected with the family who took Max in back in 2006, who were with him when he first learned he had cancer. Max even attended the wedding of the family’s son, and has watched their two daughters grow up as if they were his own sisters.

Max can connect nearly every major event in his life to France in some way, and he is more than content with the outcome of his life today. “Place” truly is an anchor that holds us steady during difficult times and helps mold in the midst of great pressure. Now, Max has happened upon a new place upon which to ground a new chapter of his life. Santa Monica is already special because it is where Max met Charlotte and discovered his passion for the restaurant industry. Next week, that place will become home to another monumental occasion: not only will Max celebrate his birthday on April 6, but just a few days later he will celebrate surviving cancer for 10 years! The past decade was full of tumult and inspiration, more than most of us could imagine, and Max came through it like a champion. Moving forward, he can confidently face whatever comes his way, knowing that he will thrive no matter what happens, or where life places him.

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To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors like Max, please visit cancerforcollege.org


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.