College Life Changes When You Have Cancer

While a typical college student can be found worrying about what they got on their Statistics test or what to wear on Friday night, Kerri and Pat worry about something else; cancer. Many students on JMU’s campus have be effected by the devastating disease, and most people think that there is nothing to do to help. That’s where you are wrong. There is so much you can do to help. The first thing to look at is actual students living in a college setting who have cancer.
 
Pat is currently a student at Rutgers University and received life-changing news last summer. When Pat got a mysterious lump on his neck and went to the doctor to get it checked out, he was told that it was just an infection and it should go away. Weeks went by and his doctor finally asked him to get a biopsy. When the results came back, he was told he has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
 
Kerri is currently a senior in high school and recently got the devastating news that she now lives with a cancer called Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Kerri was the captain of the field hockey team. One day after practice, she thought she pulled a muscle. Instead of getting bandaged up and sent home, she was given the horrible news that she is now going to have to go through chemo, loose her hair, leave her high school for home schooling, and quit playing basketball for the first time in years.
 
Kerri considers herself a lucky girl; unlike some teenagers living with cancer, she is hoping to be finished with treatment in May and even go back to school by March or April. It’s inspirational that she was able to adjust to all the pressure and the treatments and is now all caught up with the rest of her classmates.
 
When I asked Kerri about her journey with cancer and how she reflects on life now, she said, "My social life is totally different. I used to drive every day to and from school, then to practice. After that I'd maybe see some friends or go home but I’d always come home at night. Now I'm home all time with my parents because I'm usually sick or at a high risk for infection which means I can't be around many people. I don't drive because of all the medication I'm on." 
 
Since I know Kerri personally I am not surprised at all on how well she has handled this "down in the dumps" situation. When I was a senior in high school I played field hockey with Kerri (who was on the varsity team as a sophomore) and knowing her as a teammate has made it easy to believe how she is not letting this get to her. I mean her nickname was Beast!
 

Both Kerri and Pat went through different journeys of having cancer and throughout their struggle, their parents were the epitome of strength. Even when they were watching their child vomit from the vicious chemo treatments, they remained supportive. And I am happy to report that they are both recovering well.
 
Getting the news that you only have a fifty percent chance of living is the worst news you can receive when you are a senior in college. Pat had to take less credits and finish a year later because the chemo treatments had him on bed rest for four days at a time.

Being sick for four out of the seven days of the week made it very hard for him to concentrate. Despite all the trouble Pat faced, he pushed through and earned a 4.0 this past semester. Now, Pat is currently finishing his last semester in college at Rutgers and also now in remission from cancer. He decided to take six credits instead of the usual fifteen he was used to. Now that Pat is recovering, his grades aren’t the only thing improving. Pat is living like any other college student, going to the bars and actually socializing as he used to. 
 
When asked how is your life different now? Pat responded with, "My life changed in many ways for the better, you can’t describe the feeling of surviving something like this. I cherish the simplest of things. Since I just finished treatment last week it would be hard to explain what life is like when I am truly back to myself but from what I gained I am such a better person. Some things I have noticed are I am not a jealous person anymore, I don’t get mad over stupid things, I work harder, and I have a better grasp on the value of not just material things but all moments in life that are taken for granted.” 
 
Pat finished his final treatment last week and he says that surviving cancer is the greatest feeling and gets so much more out of life than he did before he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Kerri is also doing much better. She’s behind on work, but she plans on graduating on time!
 

Now to look at what you can do to help. Obviously, you cannot become a scientist over night and cure cancer, but you can join a few groups to help fight back and hopefully diminish the disease of cancer.
 
One organization is called Colleges Against Cancer, which currently has 70 students who are advocating the importance of support you can give to someone with cancer. They follow the mission statement of The American Cancer Society. To find out more information email Caity at  [email protected]who is the contact person for JMU’s branch of Colleges against Cancer.
 
One of the most successful charities that JMU does is Relay for Life. Relay for life is an all night event where teams of people walk around a track to promote awareness that cancer never sleeps. So far JMU has raised over $46,000 and have close to 2,000 people signed up for this event. Not only is Relay for Life fun but also very effective. Go here, to sign up for this year’s Relay for Life, which is on April 16, 2011.
 
 While writing this article I realized that I am guilty of taking life for granted sometimes. After interviewing both Pat and Kerri, I was astounded by their positivity through their illnesses and it makes me feel like I complain about everything. My “new” New Year’s resolution is to just be content and happy with what I have. I highly recommend that everyone do the same.