Survivor Spotlight: Rachael Gottes

“#noregrets.” We have all seen this mantra of the modern adventurer. At the height of its popularity, it was often accompanied by a photo of a college experience that, while perhaps not regrettable, seemed truly forgettable (unless you get a tattoo and misspell your life motto, then you have an unforgettably regrettable memento for the rest of your life). Living with no regrets is actually a great goal, but accomplishing it requires so much more forethought and courage than simply hashtagging the phrase and posting it on social media. Doing so necessitates mentally reaching into the future to determine what you will still deem valuable in five, 10, and 30 years AND deciding to do whatever it takes to make that a reality today.

Rachael knows a little bit about that.


Actually, she knows a lot about that. As she will explain in a letter she recently sent us, Rachael Gottes (2014 Perpetual Scholar) is taking back the life cancer tried to steal from her and building it up to be one full of incredible experiences, memories, and potential. Reading her update, your unfulfilled dreams — aka regrets — may bubble up in your mind and make you feel like it is too late to be like Rachael. Well, it is never too late! Choosing to live abroad, mend that relationship, start that company, or change someone’s life takes a simple, resolute “yes.” Check out Rachael’s story below, and you will know exactly what I mean.


12473991_1134430626567754_4530586348736467465_oI am Rachael Gottes, 2014 Perpetual Scholarship Winner. Wow! It’s hard to believe I’ve been at Duke University for two years now. In those two years my life has done a couple of somersaults and I have actually come full circle.  I started college with a desire to make my career in plant biology and environmental studies; and while I still am drawn to those fields of study, I have decided to seek a career working with children and families struggling with life-threatening illnesses. In examining my own experiences, I find that my life has been profoundly touched by a few individuals and organizations who truly helped me embrace that cancer is not who I am, but something that I have experienced. With much thought about my future beyond my years at Duke, I came to the decision that I want to be such a guiding force for others. As a rising junior, I have declared a sociology major and a perspective psychology minor.  I hope one day to become a therapist or counselor in this field.

During the past year I lived for a month in Barcelona, and visited both Amsterdam and Prague. I will study abroad the upcoming fall semester in Madrid enrolled in a Spanish university, where all 11703104_1041253699218781_7056283094588233122_nmy classes will be taught in Spanish (yikes!). I enjoyed the opportunity to volunteer with an ESL program at my university and tutor 1st and 2nd grade children and their parents in improving reading, writing, and math skills in both Spanish and English; and again work with youth facing life-threatening illness by hosting proms and helping to make wishes come true.

I am looking forward to another amazing year at Duke, where I have made amazing friends and have found new confidence in myself and my abilities. My medical horizons remain bright – I was assigned a clean bill of health following my latest oncology visit. Even more, I’ve learned to focus my attention of the good things that resulted from my run-in with cancer – like my association with Cancer for College. I am profoundly grateful for your generosity and belief in me. None of this would have been possible had it not been for the support of your organization. Thank you.

12140103_1094322987245185_5147200462779166238_oAs I prepare for my semester abroad, I go forward with an enthusiasm for what lies ahead and exhilaration for the bounty of life. I want to experience new cultures, new people and new challenges in the year ahead.  A year ago I could not have predicted who or where I would be today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

I cannot thank you enough for believing in me with your generous financial support.

Fondly,

Rachael Gottes

 

Throughout its 23 years of existence, Cancer for College has made it possible for cancer survivors to choose to live without regrets and strive toward the future they always dreamed, and we have done so 1,081 times (and counting)! Every Cancer for College scholarship changes multiple lives, helping entire families feel hopeful again and touching those in need through the outreach of our selfless recipients. You can be part of helping a cancer survivor thrive again, by donating to people like Rachael today.


 

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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Survivor Spotlight: Patrick O’Connor

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Pacific Northwest perpetual scholar Patrick O’Connor (2015) thought he knew exactly what he loved when he entered college, and then life showed him a twist in the road. We have all experienced this (and if you say otherwise, your twist is right around the corner) and sudden changes often cause us to stop in our tracks and stress ourselves silly. Not so for Patrick, though! Uncharted territory is actually the exciting direction to which Patrick has shifted his focus.

As always, we love making cancer survivors’ dreams come true, and it is amazing when even our scholars are surprised when they discover what they are meant to do. College is an amazing time and place to encourage such enlightenment, and Patrick recently shared a life update with us in which he shares exciting news about just how influential his Cancer for College scholarship has been in the past year. Soak in the knowledge below, and learn from Patrick how you can respond to change and launch yourself into an exciting and fulfilling life.

This past year has been a crazy and exciting time in my life. I moved to Seattle back in September and love every moment of it! I’ve gotten the chance to eat at cool hole-in-the-wall restaurants, go to large festivals and events like Bumbershoot and a Seahawks game, and create a closely knit circles of amazing friends.

After living in Seattle for a bit and taking a geology class, I became drawn to the beauty of nature. I’ve started hiking around the Puget Sound, canoeing around Union Bay, and hammocking at Greenlake. I enjoy it so much that I decided to change my major from computer science to earth and space science with a focus in physics. I am thrilled to start taking more classes in my major and explore the opportunities available in my field.

Health wise, I only have a little more than a year left until I finish chemotherapy! While I did have some issues earlier this spring that slowed me down, I feel strong and healthy from working out and eating well. Since March, I have started to grow out my hair with the intention to donate it to others with cancer once my mane is long enough. I even got my port removed about a month ago in preparation for my travel plans in late August, which leads me to my next escapade: going to Costa Rica! A handful of my housemates and I are backpacking around Costa Rica for about a month. We will spend most of our time volunteering at a sea turtle conservation collecting data at beaches, maintaining the hatcheries, and making sure the little hatchlings make it safely to the ocean. I can’t wait to venture out into the biological beauty of a place so tropical and diverse.

Thank you very much for the scholarship, none of this would be possible without your hard work and dedication! I look forward to another year of late night studying, intellectual conversations, and, of course, spontaneous shenanigans.

There is nothing better than testing newfound waters by cannon-balling right into the deep end. We are so excited to hear how well you are doing, Patrick, and cannot wait to see what you discover in Costa Rica and throughout the upcoming school year!

To find out how you can help more cancer survivors like Patrick discover and fulfill their dreams, 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: The (Nickolas) Main Event

On July 1, I got to be part one of the best days each year at Cancer for College: the day we contact applicants and inform them that they are won a Cancer for College scholarship. I experienced this myself back in 2011, when Craig Pollard called to tell me I would receive a CFC scholarship and made it possible for me to attend my first-choice school. I will never forget my feelings of shock and gratitude that left me near-speechless. As soon as the call ended, I jumped up from my family’s well-worn, blue couch to tell as my parents and siblings the good news.

This year, though, I was honored to be on the other end of the call, and was rocked by wave after wave of thankfulness, relief, and happy tears from recipients and their families.

It was awesome.

One call, in particular, sticks out to me. Every year, we award at least one perpetual scholarship, the recipient of which receives our highest-dollar scholarship for four years without needing to reapply! The only stipulation is for the perpetual scholarship to be given to an incoming freshman attending school in Southern California. This year, Nickolas Main was the deserving recipient.

There was just one problem…we could not get a hold of him.

We left messages. He would call back. We would be on the phone with another recipient, and he would leave a message. We would call back and the call would drop. It felt like a comical game of phone tag! Finally, after multiple attempts, we established a good connection but he did not have time to talk because he was heading into a panel at the Los Angeles Anime Expo.

That is when I realized Nickolas Main was much cooler than me. To make a long story short, we eventually connected to award Nick with his well-deserved perpetual scholarship. July 1 was the first day we had ever spoken with Nickolas, but we felt like we already knew him because we had poured over his application, and been caught up in his articulate and passionate essays describing his journey through cancer. We are excited to actually get to know him in person, and wanted to share some of his story with you because everyone should have the opportunity to be encouraged by this courageous survivor’s story.

With Nickolas’ permission, below is a portion of the essay from his application. We hope you are left changed after reading, and take the opportunity to meet Nickolas himself later this year, at our 23rd Annual Classy Golf Classic and Un-Gala After Party, on October 14 at Coronado Golf Course on Coronado Island.

Nick Main

Nickolas Main, 2016 Cancer for College Perpetual Scholarship Recipient

“Cancer. This word is so menacing in our society. A simple word can cause people to eat healthier, exercise more, wear more sunscreen, and go to the doctor for excessive check ups. The connotation behind the word being death, anything associated with this word is deemed a death sentence; yet as children we rarely, if ever, think about cancer. We go through our childhoods with an unfounded sense of immortality; yeah Grandpa got it, but that’s not me. We weave the fabric of our dreams with quick fluid motions; full of life and imagination, never imagining that one word could rip that fabric to shreds.

Cancer.

The loud ringing that muffled out the world ceases. As reality set in I became aware of what happened. He said cancer. The stupid bump on my arm that he said was a normal break so long ago was now cancer. My emotions broke through the flood gates. Fear and panic plagued my mind. I felt helpless as the impending mortality of the world closed in on my immortal dreams. I am too young to die. This thought rapidly raced through my mind. I would never go to college, never marry, and never have kids. I would never truly live. My thoughts turn from what would never be to what would; Chemo, tests, and surgeries all laid before me. The light that was my future, slowly diminished below the horizon and the darkness of death encompassed me.

As the depression of facing my dark new world set in, I saw my mother. Tears filled eyes and a horrified expression on her face. An expression as if she had not done enough to stop this unforeseeable force. The look in her eyes was a look of failure; failure to protect her child. She believed she was to blame for this happening to me. The more the tears streamed down her face the more I realized the pain this was causing her. She was the best mother I could have ever asked for, always there for me always caring. This amazing woman thought that, in this terrible moment, she failed at being my mother.

It was then that I made a vow to myself to not let cancer kill me. Cancer would not take away my smile, my laugh, or the precious moments with my family. I had no idea what the next day would bring but I knew I would face it with a brave heart, and all of my courage. I never again wanted to see the same pain that was on my mother’s face, so I chose not to. I chose to become an immovable rock for my family, never letting cancer kill my spirit. My family is one of the most important things to me, and I decided I would do anything for them. I realized I had something worth fighting for, and I wasn’t going to let a stupid word determine my future.

Cancer.

My battle with cancer has helped me realize what is going on in the world around me. To watch others battle cancer, to watch families devastated by this disease had been a life altering realization. The realization is that I can make a difference. I can share my story and show others that there is hope there is a reason to keep going. We have a Facebook page for supporters in my community. It is called “cancer cant kick Nick.” On this page I have watched strangers share stories of inspiration by me sharing my struggle. I have attended events that I have been pulled aside and told “your story kept me going, kept me fighting, you’re the reason Im here today”. I as a Christian young man feel God has called me to go out in the world share and make a difference. I wish to go to college to work in the film industry. I am hoping that in doing so I can share my story in the public light. That I can have my battle help in a larger scale to those around me. I know that my battle is still one day at a time, but reaching at least one person each day I move forward is the biggest difference I can make. Cancer will not define me but It has made me reach higher, go longer and know that I Nick Main can make a difference.

 

To find out how you can help more cancer survivors like Nick 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.

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.

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.