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A Success Story - Katherine Rowan

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Katie Rowan 

Katie has graduated in 2012 from Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri, majoring in Elementary Education.  Katie's battle with cancer has helped her discover a passion for volunteer work and helping other people as a career educator.   She has survived Melanoma.  In her own words:

Many have heard the saying, 'When life gives you lemons make lemonade.'  I received a big case of lemons last spring.  On May 19th, 2006, I was diagnosed with melanoma.  It was a difficult situation to endure.  I missed many days of school to attend doctors’ appointments in Boise, Idaho.  It totally changed my summer plans.  I could not be a normal active teenager.  Usually I looked forward to a Boise trip with great anticipation, but during this time, it was something to dread.  The tests and surgery on my leg the doctors performed were not very enjoyable, and there were not the usual fun activities like seeing friends and family or shopping.  It was all business.  But later analyzing my situation, I realized good could come from this experience. 

Having cancer has changed many of the values and priorities in my life.  Most importantly, I want to spare others from an experience similar to mine.  I try not to take anything for granted, and my experience has brought personal strengths and a career plan into better focus.  I have learned about melanoma and what causes it.  By using this knowledge and my experience, I can educate others on the topic.  People around me have become more aware of melanoma.  I have noticed that friends and family are starting to question their moles and others’ moles.  Already one of my teachers has visited a dermatologist and another one is making an appointment to see my dermatologist because of my experience.  One of my friends has had a mole removed.  Teachers are asking me to give talks in classes, and I am excited to share my experience and knowledge with my peers.  I inform them of preventive measures like the proper use of sunscreen and ways to recognize the warning signs of skin cancer.  Another important topic to discuss is the use of tanning beds.  Every doctor I saw, and I saw more than my share of them, warned against this practice.  These doctors are the ones who encouraged me to spread the word about skin cancer.  One scary fact to share is that there are more tanning beds than there are Starbucks in the United States.  This fact worries me because it means that there is a high demand for tanning beds in our society.  Society perpetuates the belief that tans are beautiful.  Tans are only beautiful if they are out of a can.  Armed with knowledge and experience, I am hoping to help save others from an experience like mine.

I work at not taking everyday experiences for granted.  Spending quality time with true friends is more important to me than it was before my experience.  Now I listen better to my friends and their problems so I can help them out.  After sitting around all summer long recovering from surgery, I am enjoying being out more and experiencing new activities.  I do not take my physical health for granted.  Even walking is a gift to me.  I am constantly reminded to keep my health as a top priority.  Baker High School has lost two teachers to cancer in the last nine months.  I make time to regularly visit the dermatologist and use sunscreen.  I make sure I am enjoying my life.  I am more relaxed than I used to be because I know God will take care of me through any situation.

Determination has always been a personal quality for me, but the cancer experience brought this into clearer focus.  I know I can be successful in college and am less fearful about leaving home and becoming more independent.  Before my experience I was in the 'undecided' group for a major in college.  This experience has helped confirm my choice of careers.  I knew I wanted to be in a helping profession after my experience with cancer.  I want to spread all my care and compassion to every person who needs it.  To achieve this, I have decided to major in elementary education and eventually become a kindergarten teacher.  I have always loved animals and knew I wanted to do something with them and work with children somehow.  Having cancer helped me figure out how to put them both in my life.  Being a kindergarten teacher will allow me to have summers 'off'.  During the summer I would like to be involved in dog therapy in hospitals.  When I was recovering from melanoma surgery, a therapy dog and its owner came to visit but I was too fresh out of the surgery to care.  Now I wish I would have rallied for the occasion.  To make up for that disappointment of missing out on an interaction with a Dalmatian, I invented my own version of pet therapy during those recovery months.  Two of my family’s nicest cats were allowed inside for short periods of time when they are supposed to be outside cats.  That was a sacrifice for my mom, but I
really think it helped in my recovery.

Another major event that influenced my career choice is the death of the
second teacher at Baker High School.  Ms. Cavallo went through cancer treatments during the same time period I went through my surgery and recovery.  She constantly provided lessons beyond the curriculum for me as well as many other students.  She has been one of my inspirations to be a teacher and to provide pet therapy to patients.

The cancer experience has influenced about every part of my life.  I choose to let that influence be positive and hope I never allow the impact to be minimized.  By being open and sharing with others, they will benefit from what could be considered a very negative situation in my life.  Remember that big case of lemons I received?   I made lemonade, and hope to always be able to share it with others.

I have volunteered through the National Honor Society, my church, and the public schools.  I have served at local dinners for a variety of organizations, cleaned the local historic Chinese cemetery, counted cars on 'free dump day,' and provided babysitting services during parent/teacher conferences.  I have worked with Relay for Life, organizing a team and raising money.  For church, I have been an altar server since fourth grade and have helped set up for the annual Festival of Trees, a fundraiser for the hospital.  This past summer, I have also volunteered at church serving at funerals.   I have provided tutoring services to slow learners in reading and math, and I am a teaching assistant in a special education classroom.  I have given a speech to a high school class about melanoma.  Volunteer work provides fulfillment in my life.

Thank you Cancer Survivors' Fund for the scholarship and for recognizing a group of individuals who have been placed in difficult situations.  I feel blessed to be included in this group.  Reading others' success stories and the weekly e-mails has been a source of both motivation and inspiration.”

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