Catherine Nester - Girls Gone Great Recipient 2018
When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the end of my sophomore year, I had no idea what would come next. What did come next was a lot of suffering--missed school, isolation from my friends, and multiple ineffective treatments. But what also came was a new outlook on life. I am more dedicated than ever to my education, my future, and how I give back through service.
I am a proud member of the National Honor Society. Through this, I formed a committee that for two years collected and assembled care bags for cancer patients at my hospital. Care bags were something that made me really happy and help me be properly equipped as I started treatment. Being able to lead a team and create them for patients just like me at Children’s National made this even more special. My friends and I also started a club our junior year dedicated to volunteering at a local wellness house for cancer patients and fundraising for charities such as St. Baldrick’s and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I am so inspired by how students at our school came together to support this cause. I hold dear the work we did and the relationships we formed with those affected by cancer and local organizations working to fight it. Even though we have graduated, the club has been taken over by other students and continues to do amazing things in the community.
One month after I got diagnosed, my dance company and I participated in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Over the course of my three years as team captain, my team raised over $13,000 for cancer research and services for cancer patients. This event means so much to me and has shown me how big of a difference a small group can make when they are fighting for something important. I am so grateful to be in a position where I can educate and inspire those around me. I am passionate about making life a little easier or brighter for cancer patients and survivors. Service gives my life purpose.
I love that I can use my experience to make change. I have been given a voice and I am seldom silent. Through the Ulman Cancer Fund, an organization that helped me tremendously through my fight against cancer, I among the first members of SPEAC (Survivor/Patient Education & Advisory Council), a group dedicated to making change in the young adult cancer world. We are tasked with solving the biggest communication problems patients like us face. How much information is too much at diagnosis? What communication challenges take place between patient and doctors? Patient and family, teachers, friends? I’m also part of a focus group for a company called Hope Lab, working on developing an app to connect cancer teens with one another. What will it look like? What will make this something people want to use? Last year, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at a sendoff event for bikers embarking on a 4,000-mile trip to raise money for young adult cancer support. What could I tell them that would make them push harder when their muscles want to quit? I had to find a message that would stick. This is what communicators do. We ask ourselves these questions and develop new ways to answer them.
901 days after my diagnosis, I was declared cancer free. This does not mean the service ends. I will always live a life of service, just like I will always remain affected by cancer. This cause is engraved in my heart forever. I am excited to further my education in college and continue to use and develop my skills to change the world around me.