SCARBOROUGH — Having watched a sibling go through cancer as a young teenager, Kristen Caldwell, now a George Washington University student, is determined to make positive changes on families affected by the disease.
Caldwell received the Northwestern Mutual Childhood Cancer Sibling Scholarship, one of 43 other students in the country to be recognized by the program’s renewable $5,000 scholarship, for a total of $10,000, said a press release.
The Northwestern Mutual Childhood Cancer Sibling Scholarship and Cancer Survivor Scholarship were created to help families afford school tuition and cancer treatments, said the release. This year’s Cancer Sibling Scholarship recipients were the largest cohort to date.
A Scarborough resident, Caldwell is a political science major, she said. When her sister was diagnosed with cancer, she formed an interest in politics and how health care affects cancer patients.
Caldwell’s sister was diagnosed when Caldwell was a freshman in high school, she said. Now a freshman in college, she wants to work on health care legislation that would make cancer treatments more affordable.
“My sister’s experience with having cancer, that was kind of a big factor that led me to my passion for politics and political science,” she said. “I think a big thing about that was seeing how important health care is and how much it intersects with politics because there are so many people who don’t have access to health care coverage. Through work in politics, we can make change and hopefully be able to increase health care coverage to more people, more cancer families specifically.”
When Caldwell’s sister was first diagnosed with cancer, Caldwell was interested in becoming a doctor, she said. Being the type of person who feels compelled to make a difference when there’s a problem, she sought a way to help make change.
“As I soon found out through research of my own, there is this whole other side to the fight against cancer which is health care,” she said. “So many other people, their lives may be saved by getting chemotherapy and other treatments, but then they’re in tens of thousands of dollars of debt for the rest of their lives.”
Due to a reduction in public health care coverage, 4.3 million children in the United States were uncovered in 2018, reported the U.S. Census Bureau in 2019.
Growing up, Caldwell said she never realized how many uninsured people under the age of 18 there are.
“Through my dad’s job, we always had health care, and through my experience and also through learning about politics, I began to realize that isn’t the case for many other families across the country,” she said. “I’m very lucky to be able to have health insurance.”
Caldwell believes sharing stories like her family’s will help teach people the value of health care coverage, she said.
“I believe everyone should have access to comprehensive health care because even if you save your life through cancer treatments, you shouldn’t be stuck in debt and punished for the rest of your life,” she said.
The emotional pain felt when a family member is ill seems to be a given, Caldwell said. As a ninth grader, she found adjusting to a new routine, new friends and extracurriculars on top of making hospital visits and trying to cheer up her sister to be challenging.
“It’s one of the hardest things to go through, watching a loved one struggle with this type of disease,” she said. “I would never wish that on my worst enemy. It’s truly heartbreaking to watch a loved one go through pain and a type of pain you can’t do anything to help because it is saving their lives. It’s the type of thing where you try to make it better but there aren’t many ways to take away the pain from a loved one. The emotional side is very taxing to cancer patients and their families.”
Although she’s unsure of the specifics for the future, Caldwell said she would love to work in Washington, D.C., one day, whether that’s for a member of congress or an organization, and she hopes to work on health care legislation.
When she learned she was a recipient of the Northwestern Mutual Childhood Cancer Sibling Scholarship, Caldwell said she was shocked that she was honored with such a competitive scholarship.
“I’m so thankful and honored to be chosen for the scholarship, and it’s really an amazing program that helps alleviate the cost for so many families, and it’s only further motivated me to work towards expanding health care coverage for all Americans,” she said.
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