Meet the 2013 Andrea Coller Memorial Award Recipients

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In 2008, The SAMFund established the Andrea Coller Memorial Award in memory of a beloved SAMFund friend and singer/songwriter from western Massachusetts. We were honored to have Andrea’s magical talent as a part of a SAMFund fundraiser in 2007. We joined the musician community in mourning when she passed away in 2008, after years of battling cancer. Her award-winning essay in Glamour Magazine’s 2008 Non-fiction Contest remains an amazing read. We’re proud to introduce you to the 2013 Andrea Coller Memorial Award recipients below, as they describe the financial impact of having cancer as a young adult and what their grants from the Andrea Coller Memorial Award mean to them.

Brian B.

Financial impact of cancer: After my cancer diagnosis, I was determined to not let the treatments wipe me out. I was sure that I was going to be able to keep working, though maybe a few less hours, but still go strong none the less. It was my way of maintaining my personal power in a time when it seemed everything was out of my control. Boy, was I wrong. I had no idea to what extent the treatments would take a toll on me physically, mentally and especially emotionally. I went to my initial oncologist appointment and stated to the doctor that I was going to work straight through treatments. Little did I know that my treatment regimen, Hyper-CVAD, was one of the hardest to endure with 5-6 days at a time in the hospital for continuous chemo, would take me out of the workforce for good for the duration of my treatment, plus some. This caused a huge financial strain on me and my ability to plan and save for my future. I had to leave my job as a professional singer on the high-seas with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and focus on getting healthy. Unfortunately, life still happens, and bills still need to be paid. I landed up depleting my entire savings from my 3 years at sea to cover my expenses like rent, utilities, car, and student loan payments. So by the time my treatment was complete, I was back at square one. The entire cushion I had worked so hard to save, and my ticket to setting up life on land had disappeared. Taking the job on the cruise ship had been a dream come true for me, allowing me to travel to over 35 countries while providing me with a way to pay off student loans and become financially stable. But upon completion of my treatment, it was like I had never set sail!

How the grant helps: Having had to give up my career performing onboard, I had to really think hard about where I was going to take my career from here on out. I had always loved recording, making music, acting and the performing arts as a whole. I decided that I would switch my focus from live performance to music production and recording while also working a 9-5 job to pay the bills! While working college admissions is my job, singing and music is my career! Receiving a SAMFund grant for a computer and student loan assistance through The Andrea Coller Memorial Award has given me the means to pick up where I left off, and return to my love of singing. The award money was used to purchase a state of the art computer with fantastic recording and editing capabilities that will help me take my career to the next level. I cannot thank the Coller family enough for this amazing gift!

Samantha O.

Financial impact of cancer: Prior to my diagnosis, I received my Masters in Education, with a focus on Hospital Schooling. Somewhat ironically, I had just completed a research internship with a pediatric hospital and was writing my thesis on the provision of educational services and the well-being of children with chronic illness; discussing the often forgotten population of students at the intersection of the United States Education and Healthcare systems. Never once did it cross my mind that I would become a part of this population, that I could ever relate so profoundly to my students. Having cancer as a young adult, freshly out of graduate school and eager to begin in the field, has had a significant financial impact on my ability to move forward in that it has prevented me from working, from continuing the work I had been so passionate about over the past several years. While my mind seems to think I’m ready for a full time job, my body (and my oncologist) simply disagrees.

How the grant helps: Before receiving a grant to help pay for student loans from The SAMfund, it felt as though the financial impact of my illness was not only obstructing my educational development and career goals, but the build-up of my student loans and the inability to begin paying them back had temporarily prevented me from focusing solely on my most important job, healing. Now, post-diagnosis, post-radiation and chemotherapy and hip reconstruction surgery, post-letting go of the life I’d worked so hard to build for myself, and post-beginning to start anew — I am left with a healing body, an attacked yet hopeful perspective and deep sense of gratitude. And with the utmost thanks to The SAMfund, a significantly smaller stack of student loan statements.

Marissa R.

Financial impact of cancer: I am a survivor of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia with multiple mutations, which requires an extremely intense treatment including a transplant. It has a very long recovery time. It is now a year and a half after my transplant and I am still in recovery. I was bed-ridden for a very long time and became weakened to the point I was in a wheelchair. My mental agility and ability to concentrate were also severely affected. I have recently started a part-time job. Full-time is still too much for me. It will take me a long time to reach the financial independence and level of comfort I had before I became ill. Not only did I have to stop working immediately, I also lost a large portion of my belongings due to an abrupt relocation that had to take place. In order to move forward, I needed to re-evaluate my life and find a path appropriate for my life as it is now. I can depend on my old skills now to help me get back on my feet. However, I need to pursue other skills in order to have a more secure future which entails expensive work equipment and programs as well as training. All of this takes a lot of money, which I do not have.

How the grant helps: The grant I have been awarded is paying for a computer and computer software that I need for work purposes. This helps me tremendously to get on track to having a secure future!


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