Mesothelioma Scholarship Winner 2023: Isabella Toth

A photo of 2023 Mesothelioma Scholarship winner, Isabella Toth. She has long, dark blonde hair and is wearing a dark green lace shirt. is excited to announce the winner of the 2023 scholarship, Isabella Toth.

The Scholarship Team was struck by Isabella’s humor, focused goals, academic achievements and glowing letter of recommendation.

This fall, Isabella will be joining the Northwestern University class of 2026, in the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. Intrigued by artificial intelligence (AI), she plans to forge a rather unique academic path: biomedical engineering with a focus on artificial intelligence and medical imaging. And it was her personal battle with cancer that led her to this route.

A Leader and a Survivor

Isabella is a National Honor Society Member, the President of Technology Student Organization and the Vice President of Women in Leadership & Service Club. She also gained experience as a research and engineering apprentice through the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).

Isabella is a dedicated member of her church, creating and leading opportunities for young people. Her letter of recommendation, written by the Director of Faith Formation & Family Programming at her church, described Isabella as “an incredibly kind, responsible, personable and intelligent young women.”

Isabella is also a Stage II Hodgkin Lymphoma survivor – which not only helped her understand true optimism, but made her a bucket hat connoisseur.

Got a Bucket Hat Full of Sunshine

During her junior year of high school, Isabella received her cancer diagnosis. She immediately began chemotherapy to treat the cancer, and found herself dealing with the side effects of treatment as well. The most devastating of these was the loss of her long blonde hair. She had considered her tresses her “main source of pride” and “defining feature” since childhood.

Isabella needed something new to call a defining feature. After trying wigs, scarves and other head coverings, Isabella settled on a classic 90s staple: bucket hats.

“I loved how fantastically unstylish they were,” Isabella wrote in her application essay. “As if they belonged to a middle-aged father on a fishing trip. I found these hats so humorous, I couldn’t resist purchasing more and more. I soon developed my own collection, inducting only hats with the loudest, most absurd patterns I could find.”

In addition to her personal joy over her zany headtoppers, Isabella noticed her hats brought smiles to other cancer patients as well.

“When I saw delight illuminate peoples’ faces as their eyes moved up to the bucket with a brim, I forgot about my disease, the nausea, the pain, even if for a brief moment,” she wrote. “I knew I had found a new sense of self. My bucket hats were … a unique way of sharing this with everyone around me.”

Most importantly, she had discovered she could look at her cancer treatment with optimism instead of despair.

A New Direction

Going through cancer treatment also gave Isabella a new direction in life. She began to learn about the potential of medical technologies, particularly AI. This inspired her to seek ways to improve cancer treatments through the use of AI programs like neural networks. Driven by a new purpose, she began to make her college plans.

“I hope to focus my college career on investigating predictive analytics, with explicit applications in cancer diagnostics,” Isabella wrote. “I aspire to engage in undergraduate labs, interdisciplinary research networks, and other hands-on learning approaches, while also tailoring my course load to my interests in seemingly disparate fields of study: the exploration of artificial intelligence, data science, and medical imaging in oncology.”

Isabella’s first-hand experience with uncomfortable cancer treatments inspired her desire to improve them for all patients. Even as she plans to tackle a challenging academic career, her thoughts remain on her driving force: how to help others.

“I am determined to excel in my studies and pursue biomedical engineering, working towards my goal of making a meaningful difference in other patients’ lives.”

Others noticed this optimism too. “Even as she was battling her illness and going through treatments, she never shied away from being continuously helpful, dedicated, and positive,” read her letter of recommendation.

Next Steps

Isabella will begin her college experience in the fall. Through humor and hope (and bucket hats!), she turned a difficult experience into an inspiring one. She gained new tools and skills, and shared experiences with others going through similar hardships.

“My encounter with cancer ceased to be a negative experience as soon as I shifted my perspective. This in turn fostered my ability to endure, adapt, and cultivate meaningful connections within myself, and with the world around me. In doing so, I have come to grasp the true value of optimism, knowing that any challenge can be overcome with a positive attitude and the right bucket hat.”

Isabella Toth

Applications for the Scholarship for 2024 are open now. If you, or a loved one, have faced a cancer diagnosis, apply for a chance to win $4,000 toward your college education. The deadline for the 2024 scholarship is March 31, 2024.