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.
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!
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.
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.