May 16-22 2003
Back Issues
Bond, Morse, Terry win 2003 Sullivan Awards
Advocate for diversity leads by example
Finals factoids
Music major creates programs for local schools

Tragedy spurs Muslim student’s effort to bring understanding

Finding history among the trees
Community through architecture
Moving toward a more inclusive environment
Jobe leads with faith, activism
Exploring vast worlds with Harrison Awards
Harvey blends work, study with passion for civic participation
Designing women sow success
Merging technology, music and art
From one-room school to athletic field
Persistence pays for Ukrainian student
Swimmer sets her eyes on Olympic event
Firefighting ideal job for Jefferson Scholar
Pruett’s ready to deploy, but not to leave her kids
Cancer survivor helps others
Cancer survivor helps others
On a bright Sunday afternoon in April, Kelly Klanian and other members of FORCE (Fighting, Overcoming and Responding to Cancer Everywhere) dedicated the Hope Garden, which they planted with daffodils and other spring flowers last fall.
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
On a bright Sunday afternoon in April, Kelly Klanian and other members of FORCE (Fighting, Overcoming and Responding to Cancer Everywhere) dedicated the Hope Garden, which they planted with daffodils and other spring flowers last fall. Located adjacent to McGuffey Cottage and Pavilion IX,
the Hope Garden is in memory of students, faculty and staff who have lost their lives to cancer. Here, Klanian sits on a bench in the garden.

By Virginia E. Carter

Like thousands of other college students, Kelly Klanian spent spring break lying on a Florida beach. Unlike most of her peers, though, Klanian felt more than the usual gratitude for the sunshine and freedom.

A year ago in April, Klanian was lying in a Richmond hospital bed, recovering from surgery for the removal of a cancerous ovarian tumor. Nearing the end of her third year, she had been immersed in her mechanical engineering studies. She kept ignoring the weight gain, missed menstrual periods and other symptoms that subtly were telling her something was wrong.

With hardly a sniffle in years and with no family history of cancer, she received the shocking diagnosis on April 25, 2002 — a date she says she will remember like her birthday. In the weeks following her surgery, she missed final exams, went through four rounds of chemotherapy, lost her hair, and had many days when she was too nauseated or too weak to get out of bed.

One day, as she lay in her bed at home listening to the ticking of the clock, her father sitting beside her, she noticed a butterfly light outside her window. “I was so excited,” she said. “Seeing that butterfly made my day. It was so simple but so special.”

Family and friends stayed by her side, and Klanian gradually returned to good health over the summer. By the end of August, declared cancer-free by her doctors, she was back in classes at U.Va. With a new perspective on life, though, she did not forget the butterfly or how fleeting life can be.

“I don’t look at this as a tragedy,” said Klanian. “I gained so much from having cancer. It helped me learn to balance my engineering studies with having a life and knowing when to ease up.”

Describing herself as a “control freak” before her illness, Klanian said she took time during her final year at U.Va. to get more involved in student life. Studying always took priority before, but Klanian said she finally found her niche in terms of extracurricular activities.

Klanian discovered new friends and new purpose in a student organization, Fighting, Overcoming and Responding to Cancer Everywhere. Knowing firsthand the physical and emotional toll of cancer, she joined other members of FORCE as a volunteer at the U.Va. Cancer Center, offering support to chemotherapy patients.

She also readily turned a listening ear to those who had lost a loved one to cancer.
Experiencing cancer also gave Klanian a new focus in her studies and potential career. For her fourth-year thesis, she wrote about ovarian cancer and the genetic mutations that lead to the disease. As part of her thesis she created a booklet and brochure, which can be disseminated separately as educational materials.

“Women need to take time to listen to their bodies,” said Klanian, who believes education and outreach are central to encouraging early detection of cancer and other diseases.

“Kelly is one of those rare students who brings both intellectual curiosity and strong personal passion to her studies,” said Rebecca Horner, a U.Va. alumna and doctoral student who served as a teaching assistant this past semester in an upper-level class, “The Engineer, Ethics and Society.”

“The research and writing elements of her thesis were high quality, but her desire to use that research to help other women detect and beat ovarian cancer exuded throughout her study,” said Horner. “She will be the kind of alumna who injects meaning into her work and ensures that positive change emerges from her endeavors.”

Klanian’s experience with cancer was extremely rare. According to the National Cancer Institute, ovarian cancer occurs in just three out of every 100,000 women between the ages of 20 and 24.

Instead of asking “Why me?” Klanian exudes joy and gratitude, calling her time with cancer a blessing.

“Cancer gave me a purpose,” she said. “I need to use what I went through to help others.”

Long-term, Klanian is considering medical school. For now, she would like to work in a pharmaceutical or medical research firm dealing with cancer.

“Always, always,” she said, she intends to use her experience to benefit others, whether as a medical professional or as a cancer volunteer.



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