In December 2015, I walked across the stage of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s commencement ceremony with a Bachelor of Science in human factors psychology, a degree that combines engineering and psychology, and a minor in aerospace life sciences. As I accepted my diploma, I couldn’t help but think about how far I’d come.
I’ve always had goals and dreams, but everything seemed to stop the moment I was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma. At the time I was attending another school, working and just living life. All of the sudden, I felt like nothing I had planned for myself mattered.
As I progressed through my synovial sarcoma treatment, though, I found that I was wrong. I had to keep living. So that’s what I did.
Taking the first step
I remained in college throughout my synovial sarcoma treatments, mainly because it allowed me to keep my health insurance. During that time, I earned an Associate of Arts and an Associate of Arts in Teaching. As I got better, I decided to try for something bigger and applied to Embry-Riddle. I didn’t tell anyone because I wasn’t sure if I’d get in. As you can imagine, I was thrilled when I found out that I’d been accepted. I’m from a small town in Missouri, so moving to Florida for school felt like such an adventure – one that my cancer journey helped prepare me for.
When I began my first semester in August 2013, it was nothing like I’d expected. Everyone gets tired during college, but I found myself incredibly exhausted with only four classes. On top of my fatigue, I found it much harder to keep up with my workload than I had before my synovial sarcoma diagnosis. But I was determined to move past cancer, and so I kept on going.
The next semester I picked up more credit hours. I also discovered I had lymphedema, which really slowed me down and was quite difficult to manage at first. It was a challenge, but I remained focused on my goal.
Achieving the goal
With the support of my instructors, friends and family members, I achieved my goal of graduating this past December –a semester early. December wasn’t just special because of my graduation, though. It also marked my four-year cancerversary. What a month.
Now I want to go farther. I’ve always loved science, especially space and physiology. So I’ve decided to continue my studies and pursue a pre-med program with the hope of attending medical school. My ultimate goal is to work in the aerospace medical industry. I know how having an illness can affect someone, and I hope to use my personal experience and education to make things better for other patients.