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Meet Our 2019 College Scholars
AMELIA CORL, LYMPHOMA SURVIVOR
Amelia was an 18-year-old freshman at William & Mary when she suddenly found herself thrust into the world of cancer with a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Amelia encountered significant hurdles as a cancer patient in a university environment — there was no comprehensive medical leave policy and no survivorship support groups. She had to delay her education to undergo chemo and radiation.
After achieving remission, she returned to school with a new host of challenges: “a crippling fear of relapse, concerns about insurance coverage, and trouble focusing in school as a side effect of my medications.”
She also experienced social isolation - “my friends were at a loss for how to deal with something so grave at our age” - but she eventually found others on campus who were managing chronic diseases.
This fall, Amelia will begin her graduate studies in a health field. She plans to start up a new student organization for “Survivors and Thrivers” - those who have survived serious childhood illnesses like cancer and those who are managing chronic diseases like diabetes.
Amelia’s Advocacy Project:
Amelia’s organization will be a support group but also an advocacy network that works to tackle policies around medical leave, student accessibility, and student health resources — finding solutions to the same problems that plagued her as a patient and student.
“Along with support and advocacy, there would also be the opportunity for education, both for members and the community,” says Amelia. She envisions bringing in guest speakers to address prevention and survivorship, hosting educational events for the whole campus community, and working to foster collaboration and resource-sharing.
“This project is important to me because I have nothing like this in my life now,” says Amelia, describing the challenges of transitioning from pediatric to adult care. “It is difficult to heal in isolation and it is essential that we meet the growing needs of young survivors. We need to expand our resources to help the growing number of childhood cancer survivors thrive as they move into adult lives.”
Amelia hopes that her group might inspire similar organizations to form on other campuses, sparking a national trend of survivorship support on college campuses.
ISHA KUNNATH, LEUKEMIA SURVIVOR
Isha was diagnosed with Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 7th grade. Middle school is hard for everyone but it’s especially challenging when you’re singled out with a cancer diagnosis, as Isha discovered: “Cancer creates an impenetrable bubble of loneliness that friends and family - while invaluable - can’t get through because only other cancer patients can understand. But I didn’t know anyone else with cancer. The only other patients at my clinic were babies and toddlers, the most common age group for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.”
Isha threw herself into school and volunteer work, amassing an impressive academic and extracurricular resume. She’s taken courses in DNA and has a research-based internship under her belt, working toward the goal of becoming a biologist and cancer researcher. This fall, she’ll begin her undergraduate studies as a biology major at the University of Virginia.
But, she says, “if I could do it all over again, during the difficult period of my life, I wouldn’t want a successful resume — I would want a friend.”
Isha’s Advocacy Project:
To combat social isolation faced by pre-teens and teens with cancer, Isha wants to create an online community for 10-18 year old patients and survivors. Her vision is for a Childhood Cancer Companion Program that “will be a safe space to communicate with each other and help ease the burden of loneliness for those afflicted with childhood cancer.”
Isha’s program will include a website with message boards and chat rooms to connect kids with shared interests. In addition to making peer connections, she also wants to create a mentorship component that connects these pre-teens and teens with adult survivors of childhood cancer. “While having a friend is a great thing, sometimes what you need is an adult who has already experienced what you’re going through and can offer advice,” explains Isha. “The program is intended to last for the long-term. If you start off as a cancer patient in the program, you can come back in the future as a mentor.”
Isha plans to launch her program in the DC area but hopes to eventually broaden her network. “Doctors and nurses are more than capable of taking care of a patient’s physical health, but this program aims to benefit a patient’s mental health, creating solutions for kids who already have enough on their plate.”