Olivet student completes freshman year and 365 days of cancer treatment

Finding strength and community on Olivet’s campus

To say that the past year was a whirlwind for Jeremy Kolasa greatly diminishes his unique freshman experience. 

Just over a year ago, Jeremy was preparing to finish his high school career and looking forward to college life with excitement. Originally from Brookfield, Illinois, Jeremy wasn’t very familiar with Olivet, but after receiving mail from the University, he decided to check out the campus. During his visit, the kindness and welcoming nature of the students, faculty, and staff stood out, and Jeremy knew he found a great fit for his college career.

Plans last spring hit a roadblock after he repeatedly failed a routine peripheral eye test. Concerned that there might be a lingering problem, Jeremy’s optometrist suggested that he have an MRI. 

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In February of his senior year of high school, tests confirmed a diagnosis of brain cancer. In March, Jeremy had surgery and he started chemotherapy treatments the day after graduation. Things got more complicated in the summer when doctors found cysts growing on the tumors, which started to affect his motor skills. A second surgery left him unable to walk, and therapists predicted that he wouldn’t be able to get around without a walker or cane. 

Despite his diagnosis, Jeremy was determined to start his freshman year on time. As a hopeful first-generation college student, he had set academic goals that he wasn’t ready to let go of. Looking back on the experience he says, “There are rough times in your life. Period. But you can’t let those derail your plans.”

With a positive outlook, strong determination, and lots of hard work, Jeremy got out of rehab early – just one week before Olivet’s freshman move-in weekend – walking on his own.

All brain tumors are considered malignant (cancerous) because of their location. Jeremy has five rosette-forming glioneuronal tumors on his brain. While the tumors have responded well to chemotherapy treatments over the recent months, the cancer has metastasized down to his S1 vertebrae, in his low back. 

This cancer is very unique and rare – Jeremy is only the 49th person in medical history to be diagnosed with this particular type. It is typically found in adolescent patients and is made up of two types of tissues. Jeremy is the only patient with this diagnosis at the University of Illinois - Chicago hospital, where he has received treatments.

Although Jeremy was brought up with a Christian education, the devastating cancer diagnosis shifted his perspective and he began to identify as agnostic. Fortunately, his freshman experience at Olivet has reshaped his view on faith. 

“I found out how many people on campus were praying for me; people I didn’t even know.” He says, “Their interest in my life really impacted me. I realized I had a story that could and should be shared to provide hope and inspiration to other people.”

The past year has been a rollercoaster of emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual challenges and success for Jeremy, but his overall perspective is one of hope and encouragement. He credits his ability to manage classwork to the Olivet accommodations staff who helped arrange his schedule to allow for chemotherapy sessions in Chicago every Monday. Throughout the journey he has also received excellent care from medical and social work staff at UIC, ensuring that he receives mental and emotional support to help process the indisputably stressful experience.

As social work student at Olivet, Jeremy is looking forward to a career working with adolescent oncology patients, perhaps even at the UIC hospital where he is being treated. For now, he’s enjoying the college experience – trying to make the most of every day with a smile, a positive attitude, and a calm confidence that everything will be ok.

To learn more about student life at Olivet, contact the Office of Admissions at admissions@olivet.edu or 800-648-1463. 

 

Published 4/23/19