From Cancer to a Calling: Dream Award Scholar Kathleen Soller
By Pam Carlson
“I thought had asthma,” Kathleen Soller said. “I was running track in high school and having trouble breathing. Something felt off. I couldn’t even sing along to the radio in the car.”
Something was off, and it was worse than Kathleen thought. “It was a real shock,” she said. “I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 17.”
Treatment for Kathleen’s lymphoma started at the end of her junior year of high school and went throughout the summer. She had six rounds of chemotherapy and now is doing well—but the experience changed her dreams for the future.
“After spending a significant amount of time surrounded by the most generous people in the world, I was inspired to go to nursing school,” Kathleen said. “The compassion I saw in my nurses was like nothing I had ever witnessed before and I knew I had found my calling: to become a nurse and care for pediatric oncology patients.”
Today, Kathleen is a senior at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana and a 2021 Dream Award Scholar. One of her professors, Cibele Webb, called her “an outstanding student who possesses many leader-like qualities that will make her an excellent nurse.
“One attribute that really stands out for Kathleen is her consistent commitment to helping others,” Webb went on. “She strives for excellence in all she does.”
“I have learned that I greatly enjoy anatomy and I am excited for my future nursing classes,” Kathleen said. “My goal is to complete my nursing degree with top grades and return to Riley Hospital for Children to help care for children like me.
“Cancer has impacted my life in more ways than I can count, both good and bad. I am 3 years in remission, and not a day goes by where I don’t think about my cancer or experience its side effects. I live every day in fear that my cancer will return or that the side effects will pull me away from my education,” Kathleen said.
Kathleen was quick to note that her experience with cancer had positive impacts as well. “I found my calling by being constantly surrounded by nurses. I made many friends and met many amazing people at the hospital, and I learned how important it is to live life to the fullest and to never take anything for granted. Life is a precious gift that can be taken away from us at any moment. That is why it is important to be kind, love one another and live each day like it is your last.”
Scholarship America’s Dream Award lightens the financial pressure for Kathleen. “This is the first year I don’t have to take out student loans, so this is great!” she said.
She is looking forward to a busy senior year, playing lacrosse for Saint Mary’s and serving as vice president of finance for the college’s dance marathon, which raises money for the Children’s Miracle Network. (Riley Hospital for Children, where she was a patient, is a part of the Children’s Miracle Network.) Kathleen is also a board member for the Notre Dame Make a Wish Club—another cause dear to her heart, since she received a Make a Wish when she was going through treatment.
Her advice for others, as she works toward her degree and her dream?
“Keep an open mind and an open heart. Try to find little things every day to keep you going.”