When cancer changes your college plans

Zach Newton was a junior engineering student in the fall of 2015 when everything changed. A week into the fall semester at his school, the Liberty, S.C. native began to experience severe abdominal pain that sent him to the local emergency room. He learned from doctors that he had a non-hodgkins lymphoma, and his focus shifted from studying to surviving.

Thirteen rounds of chemotherapy, one stem cell transplant and 48 doses of radiation later, Zach achieved remission stage. It had been about a year since the initial diagnosis. Zach’s doctor at the Prisma Health Cancer Institute, Elizabeth Cull, MD, suggested Zach take part in a relatively new offering, the Adolescent & Young Adult Oncology program. This program combines adult and pediatric cancer doctors, along with social workers and a nurse practitioner, to provide a support network for patients in the midst of transitioning to adulthood who also have to deal with a cancer diagnosis.

Zach Newton

Zach started attending support group meetings through the AYA program and said it helped him make his way through the physical and the mental recovery after his year-long battle with cancer. Often, the help he found from the doctors and resources offered through the group was not limited to medical needs and questions.

For example, as Zach began to contemplate returning to school and resuming his studies, he learned that he owed the full tuition for the semester in which he attended only two weeks of classes.

“At the time I was diagnosed, the cancer was so aggressive and we were so shell-shocked and short on time that we were very confused about how to get out of the classes I was taking,” Zach said.

With medical bills stacking up from his year of cancer treatment, Zach found that he also owed $7,500 to his school. But financial counselors at the AYA program walked Zach through the process of appealing his bill, and doctors with the program wrote the necessary letters Zach needed for the appeal.

“They forgave my debt for the semester and allowed me to pick up right where I left off,” Zach said. “I personally am extremely grateful for the AYA program and believe it is a wonderful program for people in my age group going through the struggle that is cancer. It gives you access to a wide variety of different resources that benefit not only people battling cancer, but also those in various stages of recovery.”

Zach now plans to graduate in 2020, and hopes to make his way into the aerospace or military field with his engineering degree.

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