Congratulations to Helen Montie of Lincoln, Massachusetts, Scholarship America's 2014 National Student Volunteer of the Year! Helen was nominated for the award by her local Dollars for Scholars affiliate, Lincoln-Sudbury Scholarship Fund Dollars for Scholars, and received a $1,000, four-year renewable scholarship.
While Helen looks forward to attending college this fall, it was just five years ago when her life was turned upside down with a chilling diagnosis: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
Her cancer diagnosis meant that Helen’s daily life as a then-eighth grader abruptly shifted from sports, orchestra, friends and schoolwork to long stays at a hospital and clinic in Boston. Usual activities the rest of us take for granted -- running, jumping and, eventually, walking -- became impossible.
Helen underwent chemotherapy for two years. "I was bald and puffed out on corticosteroids. I was nauseated, fatigued, and in pain from cell-killing drugs. Every consent-to-treat form I signed informed me of the risks I was facing," she said. During her stays at the hospital, she met -- and lost -- many friends who had similar diseases. The experience took a toll on her physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually, she said, during a time when she would have experienced a very different freshman and sophomore year of high school.
But a tragic diagnosis wouldn't stop Helen from fighting for her life -- and didn't stop her from beating the odds. After two years of intensive treatments, Helen could add another title to her name: survivor.
As a result of her life-changing years, Helen knew that she wanted to give back and raise awareness for what she and others have endured. Twice she participated in a bike-a-thon, raising nearly $2,300 for cancer research. Twice she was the keynote speaker for the Bedford Relay for Life event. She even started a school club to raise money for cancer research. She also maintained a stellar GPA.
Throughout it all, Helen took advantage of what she experienced, which influenced her future goals and aspirations. With her natural interest in the sciences, she learned as much as she could about cancer, took multiple biology courses and strived to understand the complexities of the human body. By the time Helen finished her sophomore year, she knew that she wanted to work in medicine. "Cancer … forced me to think beyond my years," she said. "My journey, while challenging, kindled my curiosity. Living through cancer provided me with the perspectives of a patient, a survivor, and a student."
After her undergraduate studies, Helen intends to pursue medical school, with the dream of becoming a doctor either domestically or internationally to help others, just as she was helped by her medical team. Helen's determination, resilience and success as a student and community member led to her winning nomination for the Scholarship America National Volunteer of the Year -- support that demonstrates her success for years to come.
Learn more about the 20 other Scholarship America Dollars for Scholars Student Volunteer Award recipients in our previous Success By Degrees posts! Part One, Part Two and Part Three are now available online.
Adapted from the Spring 2014 issue of Inspire