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.

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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.

Fighting Cancer When You Don’t Have Cancer: 3 Tips for Comforting Cancer Patients

An old friend called this week, asking if I had any advice regarding how to help a 19-year old boy who is terminally ill with cancer. The question did not shock me. As a cancer survivor myself, I am a member of a club no one wishes to join, but a club that comes with the privilege of entrance into the most intimate aspect of life: sickness and mortality. Over the years, I have listened to countless people share the turmoil they experience as either they, or their loved one, battles this life-threatening disease. On multiple occasions, I visited a hospital room that was occupied by a cancer-fighting compatriot one day, and the next day was empty. I have been in the world of cancer too long to be shocked by the question posed by my friend; however, I will always be deeply saddened when cancer strikes, and cannot wait for the day when a cure is found.

How do you comfort someone facing cancer? I realized there are far too many people asking this question for me to remain silent. The following 3 tips are simply my own perspective – what I found helpful personally, and how I reached out to others. I hope it alleviates some of your anxiety, as you or a loved one wonders how to be there for someone who is battling cancer.

  1. Presence

Simply put: the best way to be there is to be there. There are times in every cancer

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Three days after diagnosis, and two days post-op, all I needed was family to be there with me. (Photocred: Craig Friesen)

patient’s life when you do not want to be seen, particularly by those close to you, out of
embarrassment or exhaustion, but most often a cancer patient needs to know that they are not alone in their fight. And the easiest part is that you are not even obligated to DO
anything. That is the coolest thing about presence. A phone call or letter when you are unable to be physically present is also great. One aspect of the Cancer for College scholarship application is an essay about “how cancer impacted your family.” I love reading stories about how family, friends, and entire communities come together to support one person’s battle, thus making it their battle, too. To know that you are not alone is just as powerful as any chemo treatment.

 

  1. Distraction

Let’s face it, as hard as they try, hospitals are uncomfortable places. They are not home. Everything is sterile, there are beeping contraptions attached to your body, the bed seems to have more buttons than a spaceship, and strange (but loving) people keep coming in
and out at all hours. You get the picture. It is easy to feel out of place, confined, and unsure what to do. Unlike the previous tip, this one is all about activity. Bring a little normalcy back to your friend’s life by engaging with them in their hobbies. My mom read
The Hatchet and Star Wars books with me, friends sat on the bed and played video games, and we built

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The “Bald Buddies.” Three friends who willingly shaved their heads, played video games, and had a pie fight were great at distracting me when I needed them. (Photocred: Craig Friesen)

Zoids (giant, mechanical, fighting animal, robots. Very therapeutic, actually). We even
corralled some nurses into Nerf and water fights in the halls. This is what hospital volunteers do, and are amazing at it. I will never forget a volunteer, named Tosh, whose smile, jester hat, and willingness to just play brightened my day every time I saw him. Tosh became my friend because he made those hospital rooms feel more like home, and who better to help accomplish that than loved ones who essentially are your home.

 

 

  1. Honesty

This is the hardest one. The element no one likes, but still needs. Yet like a pinch of salt added to a meal, just a little honesty about the reality of cancer enhances and deepens the
flavor of your relationship. Cancer sucks. It is harsh, scary, and no one is prepared to face it when it hits. When you go through cancer, you are often changed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To every cancer patient, there is no reason to be ashamed or

Girl and dad

There will be challenges and hard talks, but stepping in to share that burden is so important. (photocred: aboutkidshealth.ca)

try to hide what is happening to you. True friends and family will never judge you, but will support you as best as possible. Let them. Cancer is a burden that is best carried by the strength of many shoulders, united FOR you and AGAINST it. There is a great poem that

someone shared with my family during our bout with cancer, and has since been shared with many of our friends in similar circumstances, which depicts what cancer cannot do (you can read it in its entirety here). The point, though, is that so often we let cancer control us by fear and the stigmatization that we need to be cautious and guarded around those battling the disease. I think that gives far too much power to cancer. The moments when I felt most loved and cared for during my battle were when people leveled with me about the reality of my diagnosis, and then made sure that I knew I was not my cancer.

 

I know this is a break from our regularly positive and happy posts about recipients who have beat cancer and have gone on to accomplish great things in college (like Yomi, Kalina, and Taylor) but we, at Cancer for College, know better than most how important it is to support one another throughout, and after, cancer. In the midst of your battle, we see your potential and want to be there to help you accomplish your dream of a college education. Keep fighting, and be sure to keep in touch with us when you fight off that cancer and are ready to get back doing what you love. We are here for you.

Cancer for College provides hope and inspiration to cancer survivors by granting college scholarships.  Since inception, we have granted over $2 million in scholarships to more than 1000 cancer survivors. To learn more about Cancer for College, and to donate to help a cancer survivor go to college, 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.

Survivor Spotlight: Ryan Freydig

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Did Robert Frost, who penned these famous words exactly 100 years ago, know that he had just immortalized humanity’s heart? This is not indicative of one of the thousands of ordinary choices we make every day, but an extraordinary one made mostly by a gut-feeling and bated breath. Speaking with Cancer for College recipient, Ryan Freydig, this week forced me to remember how much bravery is required to take your life into your own hands and take the road less traveled. And just like Robert Frost, Ryan is able to look back on all the decisions that he made in the past 4 years and know that he chose well.

Back in 2008, Ryan had just received the news that he was finally in full remission after his battle with testicular cancer. Ready to leave that sickness behind him and charge, full steam ahead, into college and normal life, he quickly applied and was accepted in CSU Long Beach. But, as so many families have discovered, the cost of college is often just too much to fathom. Then something amazing happened

Ryan loved baseball, but when he was struck by cancer there was no way he was healthy enough to compete. So, it was momentous when he stepped back onto the field to play in his first game since beating cancer. The LA Times caught wind of Ryan’s story, came out to this game, and printed an article about his great comeback from cancer and the effects of chemo. Cancer for College heard about this and called Ryan to let him know about our scholarships for cancer survivors; it was the first time Ryan had heard about such a thing
and he hastily applied. After that, all he could do was wait.

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Ryan and his wife, Whitney.

And then it happened. Ryan got a call not only letting him know that he got a scholarship from Cancer for College, but that he would receive one of our coveted perpetual scholarships! College was possible again! Off he went to make all of his dreams of a college education come true. Nothing could stop him now. Nothing except an unexpected fork in the road. The kind of fork that Frost depicts in his poem: a fork that redefines dreams and helps you discover what you want, and who you are.

 

Ryan was in the midst of a great college experience, studying business and doing well, when he was given the opportunity to begin a career. He leaped at the chance to earn money and experience in the “real world” instead of sit in classes that would teach him how to earn money in the “real world.” So, Ryan left college and embarked on an entirely new adventure: working for AAA of Southern California, putting his business savvy to good use generating executive reports and ensuring that all claims are handled smoothly and efficiently.

 

Around the same time, Ryan met the woman who would later become his wife. Whitney was like a jolt of electricity, a breath of fresh air, and a drink of cold water that awoke Ryan to the possibility of life far north of normal. He was working full-time and had met someone who he felt like he could share an incredible life with. When you meet that person who turns your life upside down, and you realize life is better that way, it feels impossible to live any other way. Ryan not only came back from cancer, he was living life fully, in such a way that made up for time lost when he could not focus on anything besides fighting cancer.

Needless to say, Ryan took the road less traveled, said “sayonara” to college at CSULB, and started life with Whitney.  He and Whitney also have a son, Ryan Jr., and the three of them literally live out the life Robert Frost espoused as avid outdoor adventurers. They constantly go on hikes and camping trips around their Southern California home, and try

to visit as many state and national parks as possible. He also has dreams of someday returning to school to attain a degree in information systems, but feels there is no hurry as he is living a good life already.

 

Ryan, we cannot wait to hear what happens next. For everyone staring at a fork in the road, wondering whether or not you should trust your gut and venture out into the unknown, this story is for you. Great things await those who are brave enough to say “yes” to what they know is right, instead of simply following in the footsteps of those around you.   

To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors like Ryan, 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.