Survivor Spotlight: Zephaniah Luck

How do you get up after a knockdown, drag out fight with something that is determined to keep you down? How do you begin to feel like moving forward when it seems like you are not even you anymore? These are questions that cancer survivors ask themselves as we look to regain our footing outside the sterile confines of a hospital. One of the best ways to answer these questions is with education. Learning engages our minds and helps us focus on discovering what excites and invigorates us. However, cancer also takes us away from society and friends, making college the perfect place to return to learning and social life.

A new school year is right around the corner, and with it comes an incredible opportunity for our scholarship recipients to launch into learning how to thrive after cancer. No one espouses this positive attitude more than Zephaniah Luck, one of our two-time Carolinas scholars and an amazing artist! He shared some really exciting news with us that we had to share with you. It is so much better in his own words, though. Take a gander at his update and try not to be too upset you were not able to join him on his celebratory, post-treatment trip.

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In January 2013 I was diagnosed with T-cell ALL (Acute Lymphoblasic Leukemia).  I underwe
nt 3 ½ years of rather intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatment.  I am happy to announce that
my last official chemotherapy was this past May.  I continue to go to the hospital on a monthly basis for check-ups and antibiotic treatments for the next year and then follow-up check-ups will continue periodically for the next ten years.  My diagnosis is very good.  Historically patients with T-cell ALL have an 80% success rate with no re-occurrence.

To celebrate the end of my treatment, I was able to study abroad this past summer in Rome, Italy.  As an art student at UNC-Greensboro, I had the opportunity to earn 6 credit hours (3 in drawing and 3 in art history).  I had an amazing month long trip that allowed me once in a lifetime experiences.  I got personal tours of the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheon, the Vatican and many other lesser known sites throughout Rome.  During the month in Italy, we also visited Milan, Naples, and Pompeii.  While the entire trip was amazing, getting to explore the ruins of Pompeii was my favorite part of the trip.  The artwork that I saw was wonderful.  Among the highlights were original pieces by Caravaggio, Michelangelo, the architectural wonders, and a Cristo original exhibit called “Walking on Water”.   Aside from the amazing sites, I also enjoyed experiencing the food, people, and culture of another country.

Now that I am back to school at UNCG, I am looking forward to spending time with my friends and continuing my education.  This semester, I will be applying for my BFA in drawing and printmaking.  I have found that I am able to express my “cancer experience” through my art.  I am including a picture of a computer graphics piece that I made this year.  I looked up the molecular structure of each of the types of chemotherapy that I took during my treatment and created a picture from it.  I am currently planning a piece that is inspired by Vincristine, the primary chemotherapy that I took monthly throughout the treatment.  Vincristine is made from periwinkle flowers which will be the main focus of the piece.  I am also including a couple of the drawings that I did while I was in Rome this summer.

Aside from my studies and art, I also enjoy cooking, archery, and gaming (video games).  One thing that I would like people to know I have learned from my experiences is that it does not matter what curve balls life throws at you.  A positive attitude can carry you a long way and you can achieve your goals.  The path may not be the road you planned on traveling but you can get there.

That is good enough to read again: “The path may not be the road you planned on traveling but you can get there.” We are so excited for the next steps on your TREATMENT-FREE journey, Zephaniah, and are grateful that we can be a small part of making it possible. Good luck this year, and keep up the good work on your art!

 

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 Zephaniah 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.

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.

Take A Leap!

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

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

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

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

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

Still not convinced?

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

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

Choose the latter; you are in good company.

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


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

Survivor Spotlight: Max Mueller

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Survivor Spotlight: Lauren Alfino

I recently got to catch up with Lauren Alfino, a second-semester sophomore currently enrolled at Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Lauren is a lymphoma survivor who has battled her way back to health, and is now battling her way to the rowing championship with her teammates at NSU. Read on to hear how she is doing.

 

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Lauren and her family spent time in CA during the recent winter break to visit her brother, and spent a day a the Monterey Bay Aquarium. On their way back, traveling on Hwy 1, they stopped at the Pierdras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, where Lauren got to takethis wonderful picture with some elephant seals. Does that count as extra credit?

  1. How are enjoying your time at NSU?

I love my major. I am a marine biology major with a marine ecology minor. I am so happy to be studying such fascinating subject. I loved taking my intro to marine biology with lab class last semester. We got to go down to Key Largo and into the Everglades! I got to see my first alligator, crocodile and manatee last year because of that class. This semester I am in oceanography. There is so much stuff I never knew and I am enjoying every minute of learning. We are going on a few field trips this semester and I can’t wait. Organic chemistry is giving me a bit trouble, but I’m surviving and learning how to handle it. I love Nova Southeastern University. I’m so happy to be in Florida and have access to the ocean, so I can study my field right at my back door.

  1. What was the best part of last semester?

The best part of last semester for me was joining my fraternity (and yes, it’s a fraternity). I joined Alpha Phi Omega, the co-ed service fraternity at NSU, last semester. It was amazing, I made so many friendships and did so much community service. It helped me connect with the community and be able to give back.

  1. How is your health? Do you have any lingering effects from cancer or your treatment?

I am doing very well. I just passed my 3-year anniversary for getting diagnosed. I’ve had no health problems other than a shoulder injury due to rowing.

  1. Finally, what are you looking forward to during the upcoming semester and summer?

I am currently working on filling out all of my internship applications. I am hoping to stay in Florida this summer to be able to do some research or other work in marine biology. I’m hoping to get into a program that does marine mammal stranding/rescue and/or veterinarian work.I am also getting ready to start the rowing season. Even though I’ve been injured this year, I am still looking forward to supporting my team and seeing them race! I should be able to travel with them to some of the races and I am going on the spring break training trip with them.

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Lauren with her team last semester, rowing in her novice boat at the FIRA Championships. Lauren is in the bow seat, the rower pictured furthest to the right.

We are so proud of Lauren’s achievements in school and rowing. College is such a great time to spend making new friends, exploring everything that an exciting major and state has to offer,  The best part is knowing that Lauren is getting to do all of this completely cancer free and with less stress about paying for college! 

 

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

The Holiday Hospital: How to Love Christmas even in a Cancer Ward

By: Mitch Friesen, CFC recipient 2011 & Director of Growth and Community

Music in malls, restaurants, and on the radio all over the country tout this season as “the most wonderful time of the year.” For many people, that is exactly what it is, coming together with family and friends for all sorts of blissful shenanigans. Christmas is supposed to be a time of relaxation, rejuvenation, and reconnection. However, for some people every year – like me and my family back in 2001 – the holidays feel more like the embodiment of a Batman villain: smiling out of one side of your face and grimacing out the other. You are stuck in this surreal place wondering how so many emotions could be packed into one person, which one you should portray, and how all this even happened.

You see, we are told that cancer changes everything, that it takes so much, but we do not expect it to take away the joy of the holidays.  To us, those are sacred times for memories to be made and traditions to endure. All of the preparation that goes into creating that memorable space came forcibly to a halt when I was diagnosed with an advanced stage III form of B-cell lymphoma on December 14, 2001 (my sister’s birthday, no less). The next week was a blur of medical information and shock that I just won a lottery of an illness. As our new reality came into focus we realized that Christmas was just around the corner, and this year would be spent in a pediatric oncology ward.

How do you deal with a situation like this: recognizing that there is a pall cast over a normally-carefree and happy time, and that it is unavoidable and for the health of a child? It can be a scary and overwhelming dilemma, especially if you keep those feelings bottled up inside you where no one else can help. The truth is, though, that as a family you go through these trials together, and everyone is feeling the exact same way. Even so, each member of a family (and the many friends who would be by your side in an instant) has something unique to offer as part of the solution – however temporary – to hospital holiday. The point is to do so together.

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For me and my family, this meant decorating the room with our own tiny Christmas tree, lights, and wintry window art. Everyone also unwrapped presents in that little hospital room, cramping the space with bodies and wrapping paper, but worth it because there was no way that anyone could mistake the life overflowing from all of us. I probably felt nauseous at some point, and a nurse periodically dropped by to change my IV, reminding us of our location. When faced with having Christmas in a cancer ward, make it as good as possible, but even more important is for your holiday to be memorable. Time with our loved ones is too precious a gift to waste waiting for a perfect moment that will never come. May you be able to seize a wonderful Christmas for others and yourself, wherever you may be.

At this time of year, we especially want to remember how cancer has altered the holiday plans, not to mention lives, of so many families, including many future members of the Cancer for College family. This Christmas, please join us in giving the lasting gift of a college education to deserving cancer survivors (donate HERE). Have a Merry Christmas!

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.

~Peg Bracken