ConGRADS & Conquering the First Year After College

Tears. Tiredness. Tassles. And, ultimately, triumph. That is the process so many recent graduates went through over the past few weeks as they prepared to walk across the stage and receive the diploma they worked so hard to attain. Nowadays, earning a bachelor’s degree is essentially a foregone conclusion if one wishes to make a name for him or herself in the workforce, but after the confetti and mortarboard settle, many new grads are left in a daze, wondering where to go next, as they continue to search for a job in a market that is still recovering from the recent recession. Torn between the desire to use their passion and newfound knowledge in their degree field, and simply needing to pay bills and eat, more new grads than ever are embarking on cross-country (and state) treks to work and live in cities far from home.

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A grad announcement we received from one of our recipients, Taylor Kaczmarek, who just graduated from USD with a degree in Business Administration.

To be frank, it has only been one year since I was one of those people. After graduating from Azusa Pacific University with a B.A. in Business Management, I got married to my girlfriend of nearly four years, and continued my voracious search for a job. Many people would decry the order with which we acted, marrying before securing a job, but love is powerful and we wanted to ensure that we moved forward together, no matter where that took us. Plus neither of us had been slacking on the job hunt before graduation: our application tally reaching double digits and each interviewing for two jobs that eventually fell through. All this to say, I am no stranger to the apparent job plight facing today’s graduates.

And let me be the (probably not) first to tell you: there are so many awesome experiences and opportunities out there for you!

Just a few days ago, MSN released a timely list of “The 25 Best Cities for New Grads to Work, Live and Play In,” the most recent of a plethora of similarly themed articles. Each city in the list offers a combination of affordability, job availability, and nightlife meant to entice eager twentysomethings. It appears to be the answer to every grad’s prayers: purpose, money, adventure, and newness! And all that is required is for you to move far from home, everything and everyone you know, and try to establish yourself in a new place.

Wait a second. This is starting to sound tough.

When you add that to the mix, people begin to think this is too daunting a challenge for them to take on and back away from tremendous opportunities! Post-grad life is definitely different than life in college; everything about the college environment is tailored to help you thrive, from the proximity to friends and community, to top-notch experts in every imaginable field at your beck-and-call, just waiting for you to soak up their genius (sort of). Life after graduation, on the other hand, is where those years of preparation in a safe environment begin to be tested as you are handed the reigns, and projects have real-world outcomes.

Here is the best part, though: it will all be okay. YOU will be fine.

(breathe through that a few more times, all you new grads who have said “I don’t know what I am doing” more times in the past semester than you can count)

You now have the freedom to make virtually any choice you want, to go anywhere, and accept any job offer. So, take advantage of the chance to live in one of those 25 cities while you bustle around trying to figure out how to do your first full-time job. There will be time for you to settle down later, and make all of the decisions that accompany that change of pace, but that time is (most likely) not now. Now is the time for you to explore in as many ways as possible.

Sarah McNeil Graduation

Sarah McNeil, one of our great Carolinas scholars, just graduated from Wingate University and is continuing her education in the fall to become a Child Life Specialist.

I know you didn’t ask for it, but here are just a few of my tips for a successful first year of post-grad life, from someone just one year removed from where you are now:

  1. Take some time off to celebrate! Soak in the victory of four or so years of hard-fought academic victories, and let the stress of finals and theses melt away. You earned it.
  2. Don’t be afraid to move for a job. As I said before, there will never be a better time to explore a new city, state, or country.
  3. Call your college friends. You will quickly learn which college friends you want to take the effort to stay in touch with, especially since you are no longer a room or five-minute longboard ride away. And since this is the case, those people deserve more than the occasional text or snap. And if you can meet up with them, that is the absolute best.
  4. Be a sponge at work. After two decades of school, I learned one lesson: there is always more to learn. Post-grad life is where you learn how you can, and enjoy, contributing, but you start out at the bottom of the food chain (I’m talking to you, valedictorian) simply because you lack experience. Trust me. So, ask lots of questions, take notes, and…
  5. Say “yes” to as many opportunities as possible. Don’t overwork yourself all the time, but this tactic shows people you are committed, helps develop new skills, and impresses people you did not even realize are watching.

Finally, don’t be afraid to fail. This is often the best form of learning. You are resilient. My wife and I lasted less than six months in Georgia because she really didn’t like her job and working from home is not my cup of tea. It took a lot for us to move out there, and we technically failed because we were supposed to be there for two years, but we saw it as an opportunity to try something else, explore a new city, and grew a lot because of the experience.  

Congratulations, again, to all of the new grads, especially all of our Cancer for College recipients who have now conquered both cancer and college. You are about to embark on an entirely new adventure that will be both hard and amazing, and you are the one in control. You are destined to make a difference, and we cannot wait to see what you are going to accomplish and how you will influence the world.

 

To find out how you can help more cancer survivors like Taylor and Sarah achieve their goal of graduating from college, 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.

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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.