Survivor Spotlight: Jackie Balliot

I was reminded this week that some infections are not bad. Working so closely in the cancer community, and being a cancer survivor myself, it is easy to become laden with the awful reality that so many lives are forever changed by the awful, infectious disease that is cancer. However, this week I was infected by something else: gratitude.

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Jackie posing while she was still on treatment 4 years ago.

I know I say it all the time on here, but it continues to be true that the best part of my job is getting to speak with our recipients. Hearing their stories and experiences makes it easy to believe that it is entirely possible to not only defeat cancer, but thrive after — and perhaps, sometimes, because of — a cancer diagnosis. That is the impression I got after speaking with Jackie Balliot, a sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill whose overwhelming gratitude has positively infected my attitude the entire week! Even as she is about to leap into life on the other side of a hospital stay, Jackie’s positivity and determination to utilize her gifts and experiences to help others is a great reminder of the adage coined by George Matthew Adams, “there is no such thing as a self made man.” We are so happy to have a small hand in Jackie’s story, and are so excited that she will be joining us on May 13 for our Casino Night in the Carolinas fundraiser.

For now, though, sit a while and read about how Cancer for College scholarship recipient Jackie Balliot is flourishing in college and using her gifts in the medical field to give back to so many people who have been similarly touched by sickness:

How are you enjoying your time at UNC Chapel Hill?

I absolutely love UNC Chapel Hill. It’s four hours from my home, so it close enough to where I can visit often but far enough away to where I’ve learned to be incredibly independent. As far as the school itself, I really love the atmosphere. Everyone is so friendly and I’ve been able to meet amazing people from several different backgrounds. I’ve actually been able to meet numerous other cancer survivors, which almost always makes for an automatic friendship! I’m on a Relay for Life committee that allows me to connect with cancer survivors in the county and tell them about our Relay event, which was a ton of fun last year. I actually got to be the keynote speaker at the Relay gala this year, which was a huge honor!

What has been one of your most memorable experiences of the past year?

Hmmmm. I would say participating in Dance Marathon last year. I’m a part of an organization called Carolina for the Kids foundation, and we raise money all year for the patients and families at UNC Children’s hospital. My committee’s job is to establish the relationships between the families and the foundation and to bring them to our big marathon at the end of the year, where we stand for 24 hours to raise money. The standing part was SO HARD, but the marathon itself was a ton of fun. When the patients from the hospital arrive at the end of the marathon, all of the participants get to see first hand where their money is going, and it makes it so worth it. My favorite part was at the very end, after standing for 24 whole hours, they revealed the total amount of money we had raised that year, and it was over half a million dollars! I’m not a huge crier but I cried my eyes out when they revealed it (which also could have been due to the lack of sleep). It it such a fantastic memory!

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Jackie telling everyone the reason she did the dance marathon.

How is your health?

I have been so lucky to be incredibly healthy all throughout college with consistently clear scans. During my treatment I had a limb-salvage surgery, so I have a metal knee and a rod through my femur and was worried about all of the walking to classes making it sore. However, it actually ended up strengthening it and now I have less problems with it than ever before!

Do you have any upcoming plans you are excited about?

I am so excited that I was recently accepted to UNC’s nursing school! It’s an extremely competitive program and I’ve been so anxious about it for the past year- but now I can take a sigh of relief and get ready to begin this summer! I’m also excited about hopefully returning to a summer camp that I am a volunteer counselor at this summer called Victory Junction, which is for children with illnesses and disabilities.

What made you choose nursing school?

When I entered college I had the intent of being pre-med, but it didn’t feel right once I started. During some check-ups and volunteering I began to observe the other members of healthcare teams more closely, and I realized that being a nurse practitioner would be a much more perfect fit. It’s sort of like the best of both worlds; I will get to work as a nurse and work very closely caring for patients and families, and once I go to graduate school I will also be able to be involved in diagnosis and prescribing medication. I definitely have the desire to work with children with cancer– I honestly can’t see myself doing anything else!

Another class of scholarship winners will be announced this summer. Do you have any advice to share with them that you wish you were told when you first entered college?  

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t adjust to college right away. I expected to instantly make friends and fall in love with the college experience, but found it extremely hard to adjust to such a new routine far away from home and I was way way out of my comfort zone- I even considered transferring. However, I eventually found my niche, and now I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

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Jackie and her friends kicking off the Relay for Life with the survivors’ lap.

You just heard some of the best advice from someone who is truly thriving. We are so excited for all that is to come for you, Jackie, as you begin another chapter in your journey to becoming a phenomenal work. See you in May at Casino Night, where you are sure to have more great stories to share!

To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of young cancer survivors, and to learn more about how you can join Jackie at Casino Night, please visit cancerforcollege.org or email Logan@cancerforcollege.org.


About 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.

Safe Spring Break with Sunscreen

Everyone wishes they could work at the beach but do you really want to lug all of your books, files, and laptop out there? All you really want to do is be free from all of those burdens! Right around this time every year, millions of college students wrest their intense focus away from their studies just long enough to rejuvenate themselves for the final part of the year; we call this “Spring Break.”

It is often difficult for students to understand the value of letting go of their studies for even a short time. Collegians nowadays practically live in the library and sustain themselves on a steady diet of pressure, knowledge, and coffee so that they can realize their dream of working 60 hours a week in an office for the rest of their lives. It is up to us, their friends and family, to encourage them to experience the world beyond the confines of their campus during Spring Break this year. We owe it to them to ensure that all they carry with them to the beach in Mexico, Florida, California, or Hawaii is a fresh bottle of Will Ferrell’s Super Mega Sexy Hot Tan Sunscreen.

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Bring Will Ferrell on Spring Break and you will have a legendary time!

Caring for college students is as easy as providing them with the tools they need to survive in any situation, at any time. During Spring Break, this looks like:

  • taking away the textbooks they earnestly desire to pack in their suitcase
  • building up their confidence to make new friends outside of their study group. and
  • making sure that all of their time in the sun does not lead to skin cancer.

All of this is easily accomplished with a couple bottle of Will Ferrell’s own Sunscreen. It fills up space, is a great conversation starter, looks good with any swimsuit pattern and colors, and MOST IMPORTANTLY0 keeps your skin from looking like an overcooked Cheez-it!

It is more important than ever to get college students outside this Spring Break. The future of America — and the world as we know it — depends on these graduates to be refreshed, tan, and cancer free as they take us and our country to impossibly awesome heights!

Get the Spring Break Sunscreen Special: 2 bottles of Will Ferrell’s Super Mega Sexy Hot Tan Sunscreen for only $20! Order yours at http://www.cancerforcollege.org/store.html

Even Our Sunscreen
Promo ends April 8, so get your orders in quick!

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

 

Survivor Spotlight: Yomi Alimi

Picture this: you are in the hospital, waiting to learn the results of a slew of tests and what sort of treatment schedule you will have to endure. Fear and anxiety creep in as your mind begins to wander and as you try to calm yourself in walks a young doctor. How can someone so young know enough to deliver this news?

All your worries quickly ebb away as he begins to speak with intelligence and assurance about your diagnosis and how you will be able to get through it gracefully. You just met Oriyomi Alimi – or Yomi, as he likes to be called – and the secret to his preparation is twofold: not only is he attending Yale Medical School, considered by many to be the best medical school in the country, but he is, himself, a cancer survivor and knows what it is like to be on the receiving end of a difficult diagnosis.

Many Cancer for College recipients are so impacted by the care they receive when they are being treated for cancer that they decide to go into the medical field (or it solidifies a decision they already considered). Yomi is so close to realizing his dream of becoming a doctor that he replaced all of his clothes with scrubs out of sheer excitement! Okay, I might have made that up, but Yomi is already practicing some medicine and involved in phenomenal research, so my statement may not be so much of a stretch.

Oriyomi Alimi 2015.1XEnough introduction! I got to ask Yomi a few questions about how his studies at Yale are going thus far. Take a gander below, especially anyone who wonders what it is like to prepare to enter the medical field.

How you are enjoying your time at Yale?

The body of knowledge that must be mastered to become a good doctor is enormous. Yale School of Medicine recently changed the curriculum from 2 years pre-clinical to 18 months pre-clinical. Despite the hiccups that come with transitioning to a new more condensed curriculum, I’ve enjoyed every content block. My favorite so far was the Attacks and Defenses course that covered immunology and infectious diseases. What makes school even more enjoyable are the wonderful and brilliant classmates with whom I get to share the experience.

What was the most memorable part about last semester?

The first week of medical school at Yale I was able to spend time on the floor of a medical ICU. For some people, ICUs can be horribly depressing places- people are sick and some of them won’t make it home. What I saw in that ICU team of doctors and other allied health professions was amazing. Their knowledgeable and compassionate care along with the will to uphold patient’s dignity in the face of severe illness continues to remind me why I came back to school to become a doctor. The best parts of last semester were the opportunities I got to spend time with patients in the wards.

Do you already have a track you would like to specialize in as a doctor?

To answer your question – I have no idea what I want to specialize in yet. Let me expand upon the first question you asked by adding another one of the best parts about medical school at Yale is the opportunity to discover. Discover new things about myself, discover new things about how the world and the human body works, and to explore the myriad of specialties within the tent of medicine. I’ve taken a left brain approach to condensing the options by keeping a running checklist of pros and cons of different specialties. I am also keeping myself open to falling in love with a particular area of practice. Hematology/Oncology, Anesthesiology, Diagnostic Radiology/Interventional Radiology, Pathology, Cardiology, and Gastroenterology are top considerations in my differential.

How is your health?

February 14th was my 5 year anniversary since my diagnosis in 2011. As of my last follow up this past Monday there is no evidence of recurrence! Every day continues to be a blessing and I thank my family and friends for their support.

What are some upcoming plans/events (e.g. internship, trips, study abroad, research, jobs, etc.)?

I just passed my pharmacy law exam for Connecticut last week! I started working at Yale New Haven Hospital in December as a clinical pharmacist on a per diem bases under a temporary license. This summer I will continue to work as a fully licensed clinical pharmacist per diem while working on research with a terrific faculty mentor in the nephrology department. To supplement my nephrology research experience I will be traveling to Erlangen, Germany for the TRENAL summer school. TRENAL is a collaborative network between Yale, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), University College of London, and the Max-Plank Institute for Physics and Light to promote translation kidney research.

OAlimi

What great news, Yomi! Not only are you taking full advantage of the academic challenges that Yale offers,but you are doing so cancer free! You are well on your way to a magnificent life filled with great purpose.

We are so thankful that there are people like Cancer for College recipient, Yomi Alimi, who make up the bright future of medicine.To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of young cancer survivors, please visit cancerforcollege.org.

Remembering Taylor Helland

Have you ever been through an impossible week? The kind of week where it seems like time itself has slowed just so that every moment feels elongated, almost painfully so. This was that kind of week because, for the second time in as many days, a mom just let us know that her child finished her fight with stage III colon cancer on February 20, 2016. Taylor Helland was nothing short of a bright light for the two years that we knew her as a recipient. But there is a silver lining to weeks that take forever: we have so much more time to focus on the eternal impact Taylor made on everyone she came in contact with.

In her own words:

“Cancer has come with lots of pain and stress, but even more so it has come with so many blessings and has made such a positive stamp on my life and personality. Facing this terrible disease has only encouraged me to fight it and help others fight it.”

It is not often that the most positive person in the room is the person in the midst of a 5-year battle with cancer, but with Taylor it was undeniable that she was overflowing with enough life for everyone to be filled up. “Choose joy” was her battle cry and her most infectious quality as her countless friends and family can attest. Wherever Taylor went, there was life because she chose to treat every day as an opportunity to give back and ensure that those around her left with more hope about their future; be they fellow cancer patients who needed cheering up, or Ed Sheeran himself. See for yourself in the slideshow below.

As I look back at the first time Cancer for College met Taylor, it was through her application, and the personal statement she wrote, which depicted the accomplishments and selflessness of someone twice her age. Just marvel at her attitude, remembering that she was in the middle of treatment as she wrote this:

“I met several young people on my journey who were also battling cancer. Some are still fighting, some have gone to heaven. I cannot put into words how much I want to help others fight. I want to raise awareness, raise money, and help others beat this terrible disease. My youth pastor was just diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and I am very hopeful that my story and experience might help him through his difficult journey…My ultimate goal in life is to make sure another 14 year old girl in the future does not have to go through what I have been through. That is why I am doing everything in my ability to promote cancer research and fight on!”

To be honest, Taylor lived more fully than most of us ever will by choosing to dedicate her life to helping others when it would be so understandable if she focused her energy on herself. From speaking to promote cancer awareness and research, leading multiple fundraisers that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for research, and getting fired up when she had the opportunity to make her surgeon’s dream of starting a pediatric colon cancer trial come true there was nothing Taylor would not do make sure other people the opportunity for the future she dreamed of.

Now is the time for mourning because Taylor’s time with us was cut far too short. Now is also the time for celebrating because we are blessed to have been touched by a vibrant soul, and are so much better for it. In 20 years, Taylor weaved a story reminiscent of the most loving and caring saints in history. And she graciously invited us along for the journey.

If you are one of the many people who was impacted positively by Taylor Helland, please feel free to share a memory with us. You will always be a part of our family, Taylor, and we are so thankful for the gift of getting to know you these past few years.

Taylor Helland

Remembering Isabella Corcelli

There is no easy way to learn that cancer took another young life from this earth much too early. It is even more difficult to respond in any way that could actually make the situation better; there is no such thing as better when it comes to this. Today, we received news that one of our amazing recipients from 2013 and 2014, Isabella Corcelli, passed away from Synovial Sarcoma on February 19, 2016. The best we can do is remember the vigor with which Isabella lived, for in sharing those memories we give eternal purpose to every step she took. Be inspired by Isabella as you watch the video of her wish-fulfilling “dance with a star,” and then read her 2014 application essay, one of the most creative we have ever received. You will always be a part of our family, Isabella, and we are so thankful for the gift of getting to know you these past few years.

The following is reposted from January 30, 2014: “Last Call for Applicants 2014, and a Poetic (and Award’Winning!) Personal Statement

Last year during our scholarship selection process, I wrote down the name of a young lady who had submitted a very memorable personal statement in her application materials. I felt a connection to her and was hoping that, through the rigorous review process, she would emerge with a scholarship in the end.

The name I wrote down was Isabella Corcelli.  I loved the way her name rolled off my tongue. Isabella Corcelli, who was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma just three months before our scholarship application deadline. Isabella Corcelli, who was supposed to be enjoying her senior year of high school, but who was instead fighting a rare form of soft tissue cancer.  Isabella Corcelli who, despite her diagnosis, was determined to begin her freshman year of college in the fall as planned.

Isabella did receive a Cancer for College scholarship, and started school in the fall at the University of New Hampshire, pursuing a degree in Recreational Management and Policy.

With her blessing, we share her personal statement in its entirety. It’s both a touching piece of writing, shared from the heart of a young person facing a terrifying situation, and an excellent example of a unique and memorable personal statement.

Girls high school Lacrosse games
Varsity and junior varsity
Swing starter, love the action
Pain on my side
Must be scoring too many goals
Yes, I can handle that!

Spring drama production, stage manager responsibilities
Ballroom dance showcases and competitions
Junior prom, limo, nails and hair
Pain on my side near my ribs
Must be working too hard
As part time frozen yogurt girl
Yes, I can handle that!

Summer time beach days
Backyard fires with smores
Cartwheel competitions on the grass
With my two brothers and my two best friends
Oooh pain on my side, time to call the doctor
Yes, I can handle that!

Pediatrician visits
Blood work drawn, use my right arm please
Ultrasound tests
Let’s go for some MRIs
And certainly a CAT scan
Yes, I can handle that!

Referrals to thoracic surgeon
A tumor between my 7th and 8th rib
Could be Schwannoma, could be benign
We agree it shouldn’t be there
This should be a simple operation
Yes, I can handle that!

It’s the start of senior year
Honors classes, stage manager
Promoted to barista at work
And schedule a surgery on Halloween
A whopping six hours from start to finish
Yes, I can handle that!

Cool November football games
Research papers and senior project due
Pathology results unexpected
Synovial sarcoma tumor
Who ever heard of this rare 1% cancer?
Yes, I can handle that!

My new vocabulary words are
Hematologist, oncologist, surgical oncologist,
Chemotherapy, rib replacement
Reproduction endocrinology
Don’t forget fertility preservation
Yes, I can handle that!

Thanksgiving turkey, high school football game
Doctors moving fast, chemo drugs are harsh
Fertility is in question, need to freeze the eggs
Let’s start the hormonal self-injections
Mix up the Bravelle and Menapur
Yes, I can handle that!

More MRIs, more CAT scans, more blood work
My veins are feeling tight, my diet is neutropenia
Four rounds of chemo are planned for weeklong stay at the hospital
Ifosfamide, Doxorubicin, Mesna, Compazine, Zofran Sodium Chloride, Neulasta, blood transfusions, blood platelets

Yes, I can handle that!

As of this writing I have experienced several surgeries and procedures, with more expected in the near future. I have scheduled countless doctor appointments, completed two rounds of chemotherapy, received wonderful medical care, pampered by excellent doctors, nurses, CAN’s and of course my family. Ever since I was a young girl, I aspired to become a pediatrician. Having witnessed the medical community first hand, I truly appreciate the hard work and dedication it takes to provide not good care, but excellent care. I have also been grateful for the doctors and nurses encouraging me to pursue my career. Their advice, inspiration and practical tips have been invaluable. Add to that my personal dedication of maintaining high grades, National Honor Society, volunteer hours, part-time job, lacrosse and ballroom dancing. As you can tell, the opportunity to attend and afford college would be an honor to receive. I cannot wait to be able to help a young child someday knowing full well that I too, was a patient once.

Yes, I can handle that!

Yes, Isabella, you handled all that and more, better than anyone could in your place. Thank you for reminding us to live fully no matter what. Our hearts go out to Isabella’s family and hope for peace and comfort for all her loved ones.

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