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Where Blood Cancer Meets Nature: Why This Scholarship Recipient Is Saving the Earth

By The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society | May 25, 2024
Young Mollie in a hospital bed

When we think about the future, a lot can feel uncertain—especially as a teenager or young adult (AYA) with blood cancer.  

We get it.  

The AYA crowd faces a lot of unique challenges. Many are grappling with school or work, friendships, or life-altering questions about dating, fertility, or parenting

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) works to help answer some of these questions or ease the moments that are especially hard through resources like a Survivorship Workbook for Young Adults, A Teen’s Guide to Everything Cancer, and the LLS Scholarship for Blood Cancer Survivors

The LLS Scholarship was designed to help offset the high cost of cancer care and empower the younger generation to look ahead—to a future full of possibility. 

 

Our Scholarship Recipients Blow Us Away 

We know planning for the future can feel daunting during or after cancer treatment. Goals often change and perspectives shift.  

The LLS Scholarship for Blood Cancer Survivors gives a little boost to pursue what matters: leading a fulfilling life a.c. (after cancer).  

Many former blood cancer patients go on to work in healthcare—doctors, nurses, researchers, even hospital administrators. We’ve met survivors who become pilots, artists, and philanthropists. In Mollie’s case: a rewilder.  

 

Meet Mollie 

In honor of Earth Day, let us introduce you to Mollie. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) survivor. College student. Earth advocate. And recent recipient of the LLS Scholarship. 

Applicants are asked to write an essay. This is hers. We’ll let it speak for itself.

Mollie on a trail in the woods

“My Purpose” 

“Okizu comes from the Sioux language, and means, ‘To come together, to heal from hurt, to make whole.’ Essentially, Okizu means unity.  

Since moving to California post-treatment, I have been attending a summer camp called Camp Okizu—a place for childhood cancer survivors and current patients to bond over shared experiences and recreate outdoors. As campers, we were given the ability to dance, make ice cream, go swimming in the lake, play volleyball, swap friendship bracelets, and sleep under the stars– all while acknowledging one another’s histories and living at peace with them. I found so much beauty in the fact that sharing your story was optional—no one would question how you looked or acted. They simply took you for you.  

Then, in 2020, a tragedy occurred. Camp Okizu was burned to the ground in the infamous California wildfires. Small joys were stripped away; like giving my fellow cabinmates hugs upon arriving camp by bus, picking blackberries from along the wheelchair-accessible docks, and barbecuing with nurses and doctors who I would've otherwise thought were unapproachable and scary.  

Losing Okizu caused me to find the importance of community, diversity, and nature. I find so much joy in backpacking, hiking, and being outside because I can break from the pressures of urban life. I want other people to be able to enjoy the same outdoor spaces and experiences— regardless of who they are.  

Last year, after doing some research for my college application essays, I discovered the perfect word for what I want to pursue: rewilding. Rewilding is an approach to ecological restoration and conservation that emphasizes bringing an environment back to its natural state. This could include things like re-introducing local plants and animals to urban areas, implementing greenspaces, and granting people more access to their local parks and undeveloped land.  

To pursue this concept, I have spent my free time learning outdoor skills and sharing them with younger generations, specifically through Boy Scouts of America. I have cultivated confidence in my knowledge about building fires safely, first aid wilderness responses, and how to lead a diverse group in outdoor adventures so that they can in turn develop their own confidence. I’ve spent time learning about the local ecology in California—everything from the lace lichen that decorates low-growing Oak trees, to the towering Redwoods that stand tall along our golden coast. I am currently taking classes on the physics of stars and black holes, and the biology of evolving Animalia at UC San Diego, and I look forward to exploring the intersection between humanities and science.  

I recently attended a lecture on Plitidepsin—a molecule that comes from Mediterranean sea squirts and treats multiple myeloma. Though I know very little about pharmaceutical sciences and cell biology, I was mesmerized by the fact that a dainty little sea creature could host toxins which could cure cancers! What other superpowers do our ocean and forest creatures yield? 

Our oceans help save cancer patients like me and in turn, we must go on to help our world—to heal our environments and vulnerable communities from the impacts of climate change and to make it whole again. Okizu does not only exist behind summer camp’s cobble gates—it is something I can practice in my everyday life. I can use my ability as a cancer survivor to heal communities and appreciate life for what it is.  

I am grateful for my life, and with the aid of [organizations like LLS], I hope to share my gratitude with the world.” 

Mollie is one of many Scholarship recipients who imagines a better future. The least we can do is help them create it.  

In her words: “we must go on to help our world.” 

We'll do our part—working toward a cure and improving the lives of everyone affected by blood cancer. What role will you play? 

Mollie sitting next to a body of water