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2021 Scholarship Winner Katherine Sasser

2021 Scholarship Winner Katherine Sasser and her son, Hayden is pleased to announce the winner of the 2021 Scholarship, Katherine Sasser.

Katherine will attend Emory University’s Master of Nursing program in fall 2021. She currently works as a lactation consultant and is a pre-nursing post-graduate student at Georgia State University. However, Katherine’s education paused while her son Hayden underwent cancer treatment. After Hayden’s passing, Katherine wasn’t sure how her bedside manner would be affected. She found her experience with Hayden made her better.

A Child’s Cancer Diagnosis Changes Everything

Katherine’s son Hayden began experiencing cancer symptoms as a seventh-grade student. While he and Katherine studied for their respective tests, Hayden admitted difficulty using his right hand and arm.

Within hours of symptom onset, Katherine and Hayden were in the emergency room. Hayden was diagnosed with a softball-sized brain tumor.

“Some people will say that in that moment, everything changes,” said Katherine. “But for me, it was different. It was a slow recognition over hours and days of all the pieces of our lives that were suddenly and forever different.”

Hayden’s cancer treatment was grueling over the course of two years. He had three surgeries, 33 rounds of radiation and six months of weekly chemotherapy.

Katherine remembers Hayden keeping his personality through it all.

“He hosted pizza and Xbox parties in his hospital room, cracked jokes with nurses and begged to dye his hair blue when it grew back,” Katherine recalled.

Recurrence Leads to Living Each Day for Hayden

Despite the treatment Hayden received from some of the best cancer doctors, his tumor returned. This time surgery or other treatments weren’t viable.

“We packed in a lifetime over the next six months,” Katherine said.

Hayden Gets His Wish and Dyes His Hair Blue

Hayden at the salon dyeing his hair blue.

While Hayden was healthy enough to travel, the Georgia-based family went to Disney World, Key West and the Everglades in Florida. Hayden also cooked with famous chefs and met his favorite YouTuber.

As his cancer progressed and travel was no longer possible, they toured the world through Atlanta restaurants. Katherine put up a world map and they ate their way around the globe at every restaurant in the city.

“A blue-haired kid in a wheelchair attracts a lot of attention,” said Katherine, “and people came out of the woodwork to make his last months remarkable.”

Life After Loss

After losing Hayden, Katherine wasn’t sure how her career would change.

“After [Hayden’s] passing, I returned to practice as a lactation consultant. [But I] was unsure how my experiences being the patient rather than the one in scrubs would affect me,” she said.” And yes, I was changed.”

Her experiences throughout Hayden’s cancer journey made Katherine able to better empathize with the new moms she cares for. She understands each person’s experience is unique.

“In this ‘life after,’ I am better in the clinic, not because I think I know how it feels for a patient to be scared or to receive bad news, but because I know that I don’t. That it’s different for each person.”

The tragedy of losing her son taught Katherine the benefits of just being there for a patient. When, as a medical professional, she is not able to “fix” things, Katherine understands the value of being supportive.

Continuing Nursing Education

Before Hayden’s diagnosis, Katherine was going back to school to pursue a nursing degree. His health led Katherine to pause that endeavor.

She has since returned to the classroom. Katherine is currently enrolled as a pre-nursing post-graduate student at Georgia State University. In the fall, Katherine will begin the Master of Nursing program at Emory University.

“I will study at the same hospital where my child received the radiation treatments that gave him an extra two years,” she reminisced. “I will walk the halls, this time as a student nurse, where he first learned he had cancer, where he faced surgery and chemo. I will learn to be a nurse and give back the same skilled care and compassion that my child received.”

Hayden’s cancer diagnosis was a lesson in resiliency for Katherine.

As a single mother, the cancer treatments and loss of her son were emotionally and physically devastating, as well as a financial crisis. Katherine worked very little while caring for her son. This led to depleting the family’s savings and increasing debts. Katherine will take the experience of cancer, medical debt and cherishing the final moments with a loved one with her throughout her career as a nurse.

“There are things that can happen in any life that can make you feel powerless and small. But those same experiences can also make you feel strong,” said Katherine. “The life of my child has taught me strength, and I am grateful for that.”

Applications for the Scholarship for 2022 are now open. If you have had cancer or a loved one faced a cancer diagnosis, apply for a chance to win $4,000 toward your college education. The deadline for the 2022 scholarship is March 31, 2022.