My name is Kaitlin and I am twenty three years old. I am a graduate student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado studying to be a social worker.

My story begins in May of last year when I began experiencing abdominal pain. From May until October I saw a variety of doctors and specialist, but I received no explanation of my symptoms beside being told that it was it was probably nothing and could be related to being a stressed out college student.

On October 20, 2011, I found myself in the emergency room. This time was different though, instead of being sent home with no answers I was admitted to the hospital and received surgery the next day. During that surgery a grapefruit sized mass was removed, along with my left ovary. When I went in for my post surgery follow-up appointment on October 25, 2011 I was informed that the mass they removed was malignant; I had ovarian cancer, an immature teratoma. I was very surprised and scared that the cause of my symptoms went from being stressed related to cancer. I was even more scared when I was told I would need to receive another major abdominal surgery the following week to stage my cancer. When I went in a few days later for my post-surgery follow-up my surgeon had informed me that he made me an appointment to see an oncologist that same day. At the beginning of December I was told that I would need chemotherapy which was scheduled to begin the week of Christmas. In seven weeks I received seventeen chemotherapy treatments which I just finished last month.

Although my diagnosis was shocking, surgeries were painful and chemotherapy was brutal, I learned a great deal from my cancer diagnosis. I learned to take the time to appreciate the small things in life and I learned about the importance of family. Throughout my treatment I was able to spend a great deal of time with my husband, brothers and sisters when they took me to chemotherapy, doctors appointments or just sat with me when I was not feeling well. Although it was not the place we wanted to spend time together, my diagnosis made us take the time away from our busy lives to spend the days together. My family reconnected not only through the hard times of my treatment, but also through the joyous time that occurred during my treatment. In the two weeks between being told I needed chemotherapy and starting chemotherapy my fiancé and I decided to get married. Although these two weeks could have been a scary time anticipating my chemotherapy beginning, we spent the time planning our wedding. The wedding occurred three days before my first chemotherapy treatment. My siblings all joined in on the planning by making centerpieces, finding someone to make the cake, taking pictures, buying beverages and so much more. Looking back on my experience I don’t think about the nausea or the pain I experienced; I think about running around town looking for silver ordainments to finish making the centerpieces and watching daytime television shows while chatting with my husband and siblings while at the cancer center. This experience taught me to realize what is important in life and to cherish my family and friends.

Although I feel blessed for what I have learned from this experience, one of the things that is extremely important to me that was negatively impacted by my diagnosis was my education. Due to all my doctor’s appointments, weakness, and being ill from chemotherapy I had to cut back on the number of courses I was taking. I was scheduled to graduate in May 2012 with my master’s degree in social work, but that date has been delayed until May 2013 due to my cancer diagnosis. If I received the award from the Nicki Leach Foundation I would use the money for tuition in the 2012-2013 school year.

Thank you so much for your consideration and for creating such a wonderful foundation.