Meet Our Make A Difference Scholarship Winners

Jordana Neeman
January 4, 2021

We would like to thank everyone who participated in our Make A Difference Scholarship Initiative. We would also like to thank the Clearity Foundation for their work and support with us on this project. 

We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2020 Scholarship and share with you their inspiring essay stories of their personal experiences with Ovarian Cancer.

Make A Difference Scholarship Winner

Courtney Smith

"Winning the Make a Difference Scholarship means being able to further my education in a master’s program which will allow me to broaden my knowledge in the field of nutrition and wellness in order to help women stay healthy throughout their lives"

Essay 

Ovarian cancer has completely changed my life. My mom was first diagnosed when I was twelve years old. I really did not understand the diagnosis initially, but quickly I learned. It meant late nights holding each other tight as we cried and reassured one another that everything was going to be okay after getting bad news. It meant being filled with panic in my high school guidance counselor’s office when my mom went to the hospital the night before and I had not heard from her since. It meant being alone at my scholarship award ceremony, senior prom, and high school graduation because she was too sick to leave the hospital. It meant holding her hand as tight as I could until she took her last breath. Ovarian cancer tried to strip everything from me, but I refused to let it.

There were a lot of days filled with grief, anger, and sadness, but even more days filled with hope, aspiration, and optimism. Because of my experience with ovarian cancer, I made it my life purpose to be an advocate and spread the signs and symptoms to anyone and everyone I know. I organized a fundraising team in honor of my mom for the annual National Ovarian Cancer Coalition 5k walk in Boston, MA. I led the “Fight Back” tent in which I educated the public on the warning signs of various cancers at American Cancer Society Relay for Life events. I attended support group meetings and created nutrition related pamphlets for women diagnosed with cancer alongside a board-certified oncology registered dietitian at Women and Infants hospital in Providence, RI. Lastly, I became the first official volunteer for Clearity Foundation aiding the team weekly in the office for seven months (paused due to COVID-19). These volunteer positions have allowed me to raise awareness and educate the public on ovarian cancer. Awareness and education are vital because they can lead to early detection which does not always happen causing women to be misdiagnosed and untreated. 

My experience with ovarian cancer is also the reason why I choose the dietetics field as my career path. For a woman who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, so much related to their health feels out of their control. Nutrition is one of the factors that allows them to gain that control over their health again and feel better. With the help of a dietitian, my mom was able to greatly mitigate the side effects of chemotherapy and the symptoms related to the cancer which was life changing to her physical and mental health. Experiencing the numerous effects of nutrition firsthand opened my eyes to the cruciality this field has on cancer treatment. Upon graduation, my goal is to become a registered dietitian and open a private practice specializing in women’s health and focusing specifically on women’s oncology. From there I will continue to spread awareness and education, help women feel in control of their health again, and never stop fighting for a cure.

Make A Difference Scholarship Winner

Melody Dixon

"It is such an honor to be selected as a "Make a Difference" scholarship recipient winner.... I never had imagined attending school after being a three time cancer survivor. I thank God for my journey.."

Essay

I am an energetic, dependable, motivator who enjoys learning new skills and always a team player when it comes to work and school. After acquiring my CDL, Commercial Driver’s license, I entered the public-school system as a professional school bus driver for nine years. I am also a three-time cancer survivor who battled the disease for fourteen and a half years.

I am originally from Ohio, the Buckeye state, but lived in Washington DC, Maryland and Pennsylvania. After finishing the last round of chemotherapy treatment in 2014, I left Pennsylvania and moved back to Maryland for a fresh start. While living in Pennsylvania, my past time was spent working as a volunteer at my church, Living Waters Community Church, and at the community Center in my district. I enjoy working with people and being a positive role model for my classmates, co-workers and those who are around me. While battling cancer, my interactions with people was one of my main strong source of healing, so I participated in numerous events in the community.

I participated in the National Night Out across America Campaign. I was a food service specialist who organized, prepared and distributed grilled food to the attendees in the community. I also supported the Firefighters Annual Crab Fest, again as a food Server Specialist. My first year back in Maryland before obtaining the job at Towson University, I volunteered at Catholic Charities located on Cathedral Street in Baltimore City. I worked in the office twice a week for the Christopher Place Academy. My goal is to obtain a four-year degree in English and eventually pursue a Master’s degree in Writing.

I love to write, especially poetry. The challenges in the past were stepping stones to a greater purpose in my life. Friedrich Nietzsche, the famous German philosopher quoted “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” My battle with cancer along with other illnesses has gain me the recognition as being a fighter. And if I can write a book or poem to help one person with their challenges than I know the fight I put up was worth every scar that I bare today marking my battles. In my educational endeavors, I have successfully maintained a 3.0 grade point average at Baltimore County Community College while working at Towson University and still recovering from the battle wounds of cancer.

Overall, I look forward to transferring from Baltimore County Community College to Goucher College to complete my degree. I hope to achieve a career in teaching and writing that would inspire young minds to overcome obstacles, reach and embrace the challenges that would seem impossible and never give up on being the best you can be - because you never know whose life you will impact.

Make A Difference Scholarship Winner

Brianna Kreditor

"Winning the scholarship means mine and my family's direct impact and forever imprint in our lives from my mother's battle with ovarian cancer has given me an opportunity to shed how important education is as a source of hope through a challenging and life changing journey"

Essay

I am one of thousands of people who lost one of their loved ones to ovarian cancer. At only twelve years old, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. For a period of time I had no idea she was diagnosed. My mother wanted to protect, my fraternal twin sister, my younger brother and myself from the sheer reality of her illness. Reflecting back, I realize she did not want to burden us with that information at a young age. I did not find out she was sick until I one day after school found her wig in her bathroom laying on the counter when I went to see if she was in there to tell her about my day. To say I was confused is the least of it. I then learned that my mom was diagnosed and did not know the severity or could comprehend how serious it was. 

Fast-forwarding a few years, my mom had gone in and out of remission. Many factors of her diagnosis were still shielded from my siblings and I again to not worry. I knew she had treatment once my family moved from Florida, where she was first diagnosed, to Dallas Texas. Once living in Dallas, Texas, my mom had undergone surgery to have hysterectomy and remove her ovaries to hopefully get rid of the cancer. I again did not know the severity of the situation at hand. The cancer had spread, but not until my knowledge of when I was sixteen years old. My mom did everything in her power to make life be normal, including being unaware of her treatments, that her cancer had spread, and if she was in any pain. My mom was a superhero to say the least. She somehow managed while undergoing this silent killer to take my siblings and I to Florida to visit our friends and have what I was not aware of our last vacation with her. It wasn’t until on that trip my junior year of high school that I found out her cancer was back and had spread. My mom was very petite, so it was noticeable that her stomach seemed bloated and distended. She explained to my siblings and I that she was part of a clinical trial once getting back to reality, home. 

Returning back to home after our trip I was scared. She was one of two women part of this clinical trial. Along with this she went to her doctor to get her lungs drained. I went with her after school first thing to go with her once being in the loop. I would be lying if I said it was not traumatizing seeing how much they drained from her body. It was that specific doctor visit when I comprehended how real things were with her ovarian cancer diagnosis. Time was a funny concept at this point, and it was not easy being in school worrying about my mom while I was gone. Before I knew it, mom had become very frail. She came to a conclusion it was time to move out of her apartment and start hospice care at her brother’s house in Dallas. This all took place during the end of my junior year. Once she was settled in hospice care we met with many people including someone who answered our questions about her time that was left and how she wanted to spend it. My mom then had to create her will that would be necessary how things would be left whenever that time came. Being that my parents were divorced my dad was unaware of financial decisions and other important decisions being left for her kids.  My uncle, who was the one who took her into his home for hospice, took advantage of her mental state and convinced her to let him be the one in charge of our college funds she had set up for us. You could imagine how shocked we were when we later learned we would not have any access to this money for college. 

In May of 2012, things became more apparent while she was in hospice care. She had signed me up for a summer program at a Jewish sleepaway camp that was very important to her for me to attend that was essentially a counselor in training program lasting ten weeks. Leading up to when I was supposed to leave for this camp near Waco, Texas, she told me repeatedly how much she wanted me to still go. This is was when met with someone at the house that ensured me that it was safe to go, and my mom would be waiting for me at the end of the summer. Promising me that she would be here when I returned. After careful consideration and wanting to make my mom happy, I said yes to going to camp. It was a couple of days later when I received a phone call from my dad telling me I should come home the following day and that he was coming to get me. The plan was for him to get me the next morning and bring me home to visit her and spend time with her. The next morning when my dad was on his way to get me from camp, I received a phone call from my twin sister giving me the worst possible news of my lifetime. I missed saying goodbye to my mom by two hours. Reflecting back even now the feeling I immediately got cannot be put into words. I of course came home, and we planned my mother’s funeral with my family. 

Fast-forwarding again, it seemed impossible to begin my senior year of high school. Learning my ‘new normal’ of life seemed like an impossible task. And when it came time to applying for colleges I was lost without my mom. I had to create my pathway without her help. I did what I thought was expected and later began my first year of college at a community college without really taking the proper time to grieve and without the financial support that I was intended to have from my mom because of not having access to my fund created by my mother before her passing. I spent my next three years struggling with learning how to cope with the loss of my mother, maintaining a full load of classes and one to two jobs at a time. Because of this I took a break in school. It wasn’t until I grieved my loss properly, took a break in school and asked for help until I was able to get back on track. I moved from Austin, Texas, where I was in community college making no progress, to Houston, Texas with a plan. I moved to Houston in December of 2019 enrolling my final semesters in community college, maintaining a 4.0 my final semester and graduating with my associate degree and planning on transferring to the University of Houston spring 2020. 

My determination, and dedication for school since then has been an astronomical change seen through my GPA. I have been attending the University of Houston since spring 2020, and have made the Dean’s List my first semester, made a 4.0 my second, and am presently in my third semester projected to make all A’s again. I have used my loss of my mom to ovarian cancer with the intentions to make a difference through my education and my future career. I have tried to use my loss turned into a positive experience by trying to make a difference in the future. I am majoring in health communication with a minor in health and graduating in summer 2021, with applying to graduate school to begin in fall 20201 for a master’s in public health. I have used the loss of my best friend to ovarian cancer as my motivator to better my future and further my education to help in the field of public health and health promotion to hopefully one day make difference in disease prevention. It has been a very difficult pathway and not a traditional one being in school for my undergraduate at twenty-five years old. I had a very hard time through the duration of my mom’s passing trying to work two jobs and be a fulltime student due to not have the financial support. 

My life has and always will be impacted by cancer, but I choose to do all I can to use this tragic loss and impact in a positive way to educate others, be proactive with my health and encourage others to as well. Receiving financial support would be incredibly helpful to support my education to complete my dreams of earning my degree. 

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