Cancer survivor helps others
by Andrew Shurtleff
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
dont 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
of asking Why me? Klanian exudes joy and gratitude,
calling her time with cancer a blessing.
gave me a purpose, she said. I need to use what I
went through to help others.
Klanian is considering medical school. For now, she would like
to work in a pharmaceutical or medical research firm dealing with
always, she said, she intends to use her experience to benefit
others, whether as a medical professional or as a cancer volunteer.