Students and alumni of University of Findlay have all sorts of unique stories about why and how they chose to become an Oiler. For some, it’s demographics and location; for others, it’s the “small school, big education” idea; and, for some students, like UF freshman Abby Hawk, it’s a mix of those things, as well as a pretty significant life experience she had when she was a very young child, that drove her decision.
Several years ago, back in 2005, when Hawk was less than two-years-old, she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells found in several areas of the body. It’s rare, but it can also be severe. Such was the case for Hawk, as the stage IV cancer had spread to her abdomen, lungs, and pelvis, requiring chemotherapy, two rounds of surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, more chemotherapy, and, finally, stem cell treatment.
Given her age back then, Hawk remembers precious little about the experience, and said that when her family tells her stories of the time, “it’s like hearing about a TV show about someone else.” The impact is there, however, and likely always will be.
One positive, among many, that Hawk said came from the experience was wanting to be able to help children that have a similar encounter with such a frightening ordeal. The most direct way to do that, she figured, was to study in the medical field and eventually land in a position to literally guide kids through their medical experience. “I was still pretty young, I think, when I was sitting with my mom in her car and trying to figure out what to do with my life,” Hawk said. “I really didn’t want to go to a four-year college at first, but we kept talking, and made it to the medical field.” At the same time, she was recalling her bout with cancer and remembered one of the many procedures she was put through as a result.
When Hawk had cancer, she felt that the only appointments she liked were those with sonography. “They were never stressful,” she said of the experience. “There was never bad news. It was a time to just be relaxed, I guess.” It made sense, then, that she would pursue this avenue, because she felt very clearly that she could benefit people in the same way, and that her direct experience with it, even though it was at a time so long ago, would be a good way to expand on the knowledge she’d get in college. And it just so happens that UF has a Diagnostic Medical Sonography Program; and, Hawk said, it helped that much more that, when she visited the UF campus, the feeling that she had “found her place” came almost immediately. “Oh, my gosh, I loved it so much,” she said. “I loved the environment, the welcoming, super nice people who all had great things to say about UF. Loved the class sizes. I knew right away.”
As she’s been a cheerleader for the better part of her life, UF’s cheer program was the icing on the cake for Hawk. She was a bit nervous about trying out, she confessed, as her lingering issues with balance as a result of her cancer battle create some challenges, but, luckily for both her and UF athletics, she made the team. Cheering, according to Hawk, offers her an opportunity to show everyone who she really is and just “be herself.”
Now a burgeoning freshman in the middle of her first semester as an Oiler, Hawk’s days at UF are busy. The first semester in the Diagnostic Medical Sonography Program is notoriously challenging, with students spending anywhere from 30 to 40 hours a week between the classroom and the laboratory. As a straight-A student and the valedictorian of her high school class, however, it’s a challenge that Hawk has both the dedication and determination to take on and master.
Normally, she said, Hawk wakes up for 6 a.m. cheer practice, comes back to her dorm, gets ready and goes to class. When she’s done with classes, she naps or does homework, and hangs out with friends. The days are typical for an involved college student, and Hawk likes it that way. Humble and unassuming, she said that she doesn’t “advertise” her past adversity, but makes it a habit to encourage others to see that anything is possible. “I do think about that period of time a lot” she said, “and, really, it decided my major at UF; so, yes, it is a factor in how I live my life, but I don’t think it defines me. I’m sort of amazed that I could do it, though.”
As inspiration for her life going forward, Hawk got a tattoo with the latitude and longitude coordinates of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center with an encouraging message: “The comeback is always stronger than the setback.” To be an intricate part of that comeback is just one of the many blessings that University of Findlay is able to find in its students and alumni.
Meaningful lives and productive careers. Abby Hawk had the first part covered long before she became a student at UF, and now she’s adding more to the formula by leading herself to help others through pursuing a UF degree. With the myriad of experiences she’s had informing her path in life, coupled with that degree, a productive and influential career is not long on the horizon.