Finishing Grad School After Cancer

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by Robyn W., Samfund Grant Recipient

After years of hard work, when I could finally see the light at the end of the PhD tunnel (this year would be the year I finished), I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. I was ABD (All But Dissertation) and had a rigorous year ahead of me, but at the end of it, I would have finished and defended my dissertation. It was the third day of school and I was walking along the drag of campus when I got the life-shattering phone call from my doctor. My full time job immediately became fighting the fight and getting healthy. My old life, identity, teaching, dissertation, it all got left behind.

When I miraculously beat cancer- achieved that golden dream of remission- I was not prepared for the physical, cognitive, emotional and financial disaster of a battlefield with which I was left. My friends and family were celebrating my victory, but I was distraught. I slowly worked through the physical and cognitive difficulties with tools like acupuncture, physical therapy, exercise and diet. I dealt with the emotional scars with the help of a counselor and yoga for survivors. My circle of wellness did not include any financial help though; nobody prepared me for how much cancer keeps costing once treatment is done. I was a graduate student, and paying for high quality organic, healthy food, supplements and health boosters, continuous check-ups and imaging, doctors fees for dealing with long-term side effects, all of these things that now absolutely had to be done to keep me healthy did not fit into my old budget. Not to mention the medical bills. I paid those mostly with school loans.

Because of my battle with cancer, including the time spent in treatment as well as the very long time needed to recover, I surpassed the limit of funding allowed by my graduate program. I had not finished my dissertation on time, and now had the additional cost of tuition. I had made it through grad school, made it through cancer, and almost finished my dissertation, but I had used all of my loan money to pay my medical bills and now couldn’t pay for the last stretch of tuition to finish my PhD. Enter the angels at The Samfund. Thanks to The Samfund, I was able to receive funding to pay for a sizeable chunk of my tuition, making payment of the rest in installments possible for me. I am so grateful to the wonderful people at The Samfund helping young adults with the financial side-effects of cancer- it’s very, very difficult to “get back to life” when you’ve just taken such a physical, emotional and financial blow. The Samfund helps lessen that burden.

I am happy and proud to say that after everything in my life got derailed by cancer, I finally feel like my life is starting to get back on track. I made the transition from grad student to faculty this fall when I accepted a position at a small liberal arts college. In addition, my dissertation is in its final stages and I’ll be defending it in February 2017. Come May, there will be two framed certificates side by side on my wall to commemorate my hardest fought victories and to remind me of my strength and perseverance: my certificate of completion of chemotherapy and finally, that of the PhD. Most days I’m still scared, I’m still reeling from the physical, emotional and financial aftermath of cancer, but my life is moving forward, and as the Beatles song (appropriately playing in the background as I write these words) says, I feel that ice is slowly melting…here comes the sun.

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