Not Just About Survival

The American Cancer Society has found a new treatment for cancer-stricken patients: send them to college.

In 1992, the Society established a college scholarship program to provide financial assistance to high school graduates who had been diagnosed with cancer. Knowing that the students’ families had already been burdened with the medical costs of caring for a child with cancer, the program has been set up to help cut the cost of their child’s college education.

The American Cancer Society is the nationwide, community-based, voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives and diminishing suffering from cancer through research, education, advocacy and service.

The College Scholarship Program is open to students younger than 21 years who have been diagnosed with cancer, said Marilyn Westley, director for Childhood Cancer Programs. It includes patients who are still receiving treatment. The program was established through a donation by an anonymous contributor.Since the inception of the scholarship program, 253 students have been able to fulfill their dreams of attending college. Of these, 65 have graduated, with 49 percent going on to graduate and doctoral programs.

“We see it (the program) as an opportunity to level the playing field,” Westley said.

The program gives these students as much of a chance to attend college as their peers.

Westley is in charge of the scholarship program and gets to know the students. She heads a committee composed of volunteers who keep in touch with the students and intervene when the students need help.

“We see it as more than a scholarship,” Westley said. “We want to do what we can to see that these kids are successful.”Kimberly Zareczny, a sophomore at USF who suffers from leukemia, benefited from the committee’s intervention when she was not accepted to USF because of her low SAT scores.

“I had taken my SATs the day before I was diagnosed, so I was really sick that day,” said Zareczny. “We (Zareczny’s family) wrote a note explaining the situation, but they didn’t change their minds.”Westley heard Zareczny’s story about the SATs and told Karen Moffitt, director for the Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System at USF. Moffitt contacted USF and was able to get Zareczny accepted.

“I think that the scholarships that they offer are a wonderful thing that they’re doing, and I hope they keep doing it,” Zareczny said.

Zareczny was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 17. She underwent an eight-month treatment of heavy chemotherapy, part of a 2 1/2-year treatment. The remainder of the treatments came in the form of a weekly shot. Her last one will be in December.

“Once the treatments are done, I don’t have to do anything further because they pretty much know it will no longer be there,” Zareczny said.

However, she will have to see her doctor for a six-month checkup to make sure she is OK.

Francis Rosario, a 20-year-old sophomore at USF, is another recipient of the American Cancer Society College Scholarship.Rosario suffered from migraines from the time he was in junior high through his sophomore year of high school when he was diagnosed with a tumor in his brain.

“One day I was feeling sick,” Rosario said. “I was misdiagnosed with mononucleosis. Then a CAT scan showed I had a backup of fluid on my skull.”

Rosario had other medical tests done before the doctors found a tumor in the middle of his brain. They wanted to do a biopsy but the only way to do so was to operate on his brain.

Once the doctors knew exactly what they were looking at, Rosario underwent a 6-month experimental treatment of chemotherapy and radiation, which got rid of the tumor.

“They said it would take care of it permanently,” Rosario said.Even with everything Rosario went through to be cancer-free, he said he did not go through as much as some others.

“I think I had kind of an easier time than most cancer patients,” he said. “When I was in the hospital, I shared a room with a guy named Stephen. He was going through a second treatment. Those are the brave ones.”

Rosario said having his family with him also helped a lot.Rosario had articles written about him during his treatment, one of which was passed on to the American Cancer Society by his high school guidance counselor. One of these articles was handed either to Moffitt or Westley. Moffitt performed the final interview with Rosario.

Since receiving the scholarship, Rosario has volunteered for the American Cancer Society, helping out whenever he can.

Rosario has also volunteered for the Relay for Life, a 26-hour relay race that is the main fund-raiser for the Society.

Rosario said he thinks highly of the American Cancer Society and the support they offer.

“I definitely think the American Cancer Society is very helpful,” he said. “I was lucky enough to receive the scholarship.”The scholarship is worth a maximum of $2,000 toward tuition per year, depending on the number of hours taken, plus $300 per year for textbooks.

This year, more than $280,000 has been awarded to 45 new recipients and 90 renewed students as well as two students who have been reinstated into the program.

To be eligible, a student must have a history of cancer, be a Florida resident, younger than 21 years at the time of the diagnosis and plan to attend an upper or lower level Florida college or university, including any of the private institutions.The scholarships are awarded at the discretion of the Society’s volunteer college scholarship committee and are based on the student’s financial needs, other scholarships they receive, community service and leadership. Westley said recipients can easily renew their scholarship yearly, provided they maintain a 3.0 grade point average and do not have considerable change in their financial status.

In December 2000, the National Scholarship Providers Association named the American Cancer Society in Florida the Scholarship Provider of the Year for its outstanding college scholarship program for young cancer patients.

Applications for the 2002-2003 academic year are due April 10, 2002. For more information about the American Cancer Society’s College Scholarship Program, call Marilyn Westley at (813) 349-4405.

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