You don’t have to be a doctor to fight cancer. Sometimes all you need is a love for teaching, a motorcycle-riding-cancer-surviving friend, and just an innate drive to help others.
Instead of spending the end of her summer lounging on a beach, Ballard High School language arts teacher Kristin Storey volunteered to go back to the classroom to help 23 Fred Hutch high school interns write their college application essays.
“It’s a really challenging thing for kids to do,” said Storey, who’s been teaching in the Seattle Public School system for more than 20 years. “It’s the first time they’re really asked to expose … their dreams and their hopes and desires — with the chance that they’ll be rejected. Helping that whole process is very exciting.”
Storey led a two-week workshop at Fred Hutch, during which she helped the students hone their writing skills and start drafting various essays for the writing section of their college applications.
“She’s really energetic and she loves what she does,” said Robel Mulugeta, one of the summer interns, a high school senior. “It’s really motivated us.”
Storey got involved with the Hutch intern program through one of her former students who had been a participant. When the internship coordinator asked Storey to run the college essay-writing workshop, she agreed immediately. She loved the idea of helping a small classroom of thoroughly committed students, but she also has a personal connection to cancer and hoped to aid the Hutch in any way she could.
Nearly 24 years ago, Storey was teaching social studies and Dana Marsden was teaching science at Alderwood Middle School, in nearby Lynnwood, Washington. The two worked on a core teaching team together and became fast friends. They decided their pupils needed to see the nation’s capital, so they organized a student trip to Washington, D.C.
Right before their trek, however, Marsden was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“Kristin said, ‘I don’t want anyone else to go to your [treatment] appointments with you. Let me,’” Marsden recalled. “And she did, every single one of them. … I'm not married and my family was not capable of being there for me at that time. Being in the throes of it all, I didn't even realize how much of a problem that could have been — but I didn't need to.”
Over the past 20 years, through four total cancer diagnoses — two relapses of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and a bout with sarcoma, Storey was often at Marsden’s side, whether that meant attending appointments at Fred Hutch’s treatment arm, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, or cooking meals, or even walking the Portland Marathon together to celebrate Marsden’s five-year, post-cancer milestone. Marsden later returned the favor by lending Storey a hand with baby care.
“She helped me through cancer, I helped her change diapers,” Marsden said. “She taught me how to play cribbage when I was getting chemo. We would get in trouble for laughing too much at the treatment center.”
Storey described Marsden as a fighter, a passionate teacher and a third parent to her children. During her many treatments, Marsden continued to teach middle school science for as long as her body allowed.
“She’s a survivor, she’s maybe a role-model survivor,” Storey said. “She rides a motorcycle on these long rides. She’s got a bum hip that’s been dislocated I don’t know how many times but she does what she wants to do, she doesn’t let things stop her.”
But this motorcycle-riding-kickboxing survivor of multiple cancers said she couldn’t have done it without Storey’s support.
“A cancer diagnosis just drives you into a whole different place,” Marsden said. “You’re scared to death and you don’t want to think about it. She just stayed with me. She didn’t have to but she stayed.”
Storey’s experience as a caregiver fueled her desire to work with the Hutch high school interns in hopes of helping the next generation of scientists who might one day be curing illnesses like Marsden’s.
“When they asked me, I thought: This is totally meant to be; of course I’m supposed to do this, it all makes sense now,” Storey said. “The connection with the program that we’re introducing kids to this amazing world of research and finding cures and helping others on a local and global scale — I feel like it’s all interconnected.”
This fall, Storey and Marsden are both back in their respective classrooms. Since the beginning of their friendship, they’ve retained their individual roles: Marsden as a fighter, Storey as a supporter.
“She’d hold my hand in moments when it’d be tough. She’d just be there,” Marsden said. “She’d be there for anything and all of it, and I knew I could count on that.”
But, now, Storey is fighting in her own way by helping young minds chase their scientific dreams, including hunting for possible cancer cures.
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Megan Herndon is a freelance contributor to the Fred Hutch news team. She is a senior at the University of Washington where she is majoring in journalism, minoring in French and pursuing a Certificate of Sales. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.