Fall 2019 Scholarship Winner Karina Stiles-Cox

Mesothelioma Scholarship Winner Karina Stiles-Cox is pleased to announce the winner of the Fall 2019 Scholarship, Karina Stiles-Cox.

This fall, Karina will begin pursuing her doctorate in humanities at Salve Regina University. As Karina explained in her essay, the dream of earning her PhD has been many years in the making and has been derailed numerous times from hardships she has faced, including her breast cancer diagnosis.

In her essay, Karina described that her diagnosis came at one of the lowest points in her life. She was grieving the loss of a family member, her house flooded, her car’s transmission died, and her dog passed away, all in the midst of doctor’s appointments and beginning treatment. Karina said, “But I was a single mother of two young children, and I had a cancer diagnosis. Despair—quitting—was not an option.”

Despite the many hardships she was facing, Karina recalls that her cancer diagnosis brought one thing to the forefront of her mind: all that she had to live for.

Striving for Normalcy While Facing Cancer

In the wake of her diagnosis, Karina was determined to live her normal life. She thought of all the things she loved, like running, cooking for friends and family, being a mom and working as a university lecturer. Despite needing to undergo treatment over 200 miles away from home and work, Karina wanted to make life as normal as possible for herself, her two children and her students. So, she arranged her treatment schedule around her kids.

Each Monday morning, Karina would drop her kids off at school and then drive 288 miles for treatment at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. For six weeks, Karina followed the same routine, with friends jumping in to watch her kids Monday to Friday. Before dawn each Friday, she would finish her last radiation treatment of the week and drive home to pick her children up from school and have the weekend together before returning to Houston for more treatment.

In addition to accommodating her children’s schedules, Karina didn’t want to let go of her course load and impact her students. Karina works as a professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, where she has taught since 2010. During her six-week absence for treatment, Karina switched her class to an online format and would meet with her students via Skype. Karina said, “Far from making me less effective as an instructor, the experience helped me connect more with my students and opened the door for several of them to share their own cancer journeys as encouragement.”

Throughout her treatment journey, Karina continued to live life with gusto, despite the side effects and hardships. She wrote, “And how did I handle the toll that surgery and radiation took on my body? Halfway through radiation therapy, I ran a 5K for breast cancer. It was my way of telling cancer that if it wanted me, I wasn’t going to go down easily.”

Ringing the Bell

“On October 2016, alongside my ten-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter, I got to ring the bell—a tradition at MD Anderson that marks the end of your radiation and chemotherapy treatments and the start of your life as a cancer survivor. Survivor. The single, most powerful word in my life. I am a survivor,” Karina said.

Despite her three-year anniversary approaching, Karina still realizes the uncertainty that comes with cancer. She continues to undergo monitoring for any possible recurrence or signs of cancer, but she explains that she won’t let the possibility stop her from reaching her goals.

Karina is looking forward to achieving her doctorate degree and becoming the first in her family to do so. She said, “For me, the power of this degree is in the multi-generational impact it will have on my family. It honors the sacrifices my parents made to provide a safer, brighter future for their children. It will allow me to continue growing and developing as a teacher and scholar, while increasing my job security. For my children—the son and daughter of a Mexican immigrant—it redefines their legacy and sets a new bar of what their family can accomplish.”

We are honored to award the Fall 2019 Scholarship to Karina, whose dedication to her students and loved ones, even during the trials of her cancer diagnosis, is an inspiration. We look forward to seeing all Karina achieves in the future.

Applications for the Scholarship for Fall 2020 are now open. If you have had cancer or have seen a loved one face a cancer diagnosis, submit your essay and receive a chance to win $4,000 toward your college education. The deadline for the Fall 2020 semester is March 31, 2020.