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Surviving Exams, Interviews and Cancer

Cancer survivor and McCombs alumna Katie Jozwicki
By Tracy Mueller

Statistics say one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. But at age 31, Katie Jozwicki, MBA ’07, did not expect to be one of them. And yet, in the midst of mid-terms during her second year at McCombs, she learned she had stage-two breast cancer.


“When my doctor said it was cancer, in that moment, my whole world changed,” Jozwicki said in an October interview. She returned to McCombs this fall to speak to students about her experience.

Two hours after her diagnosis in the fall of 2006, Jozwicki was talking with advisors in the MBA Program Office.

“The first thing I wanted to know was how I would still get my MBA,” Jozwicki said. “I was also a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to go on my semester abroad.” Jozwicki said her bulldog commitment to her degree sustained her through an otherwise “miserable” period of her life. “By staying in school, I had something other than cancer to focus on,” she said.

It also allowed her to have a sense of control during a time when she felt it was constantly being taken away. “I became my expert on cancer, researching online, talking to other survivors,” Jozwicki recalled. “I insisted on a certain schedule for my surgery and chemotherapy, and I was very proactive in managing the growing financial costs. But I couldn’t always control the reality of my cancer treatments.”

She scheduled a lumpectomy for Thanksgiving week (so as not miss any classes) and began chemotherapy treatments in December. Jozwicki tried her best to maintain a normal school life. She could not study abroad for her entire spring semester as planned. Instead she made sure to schedule her chemotherapy treatments so she could participate in a spring Global Connections trip to China.

She kept a full course load and scheduled second-round interviews with potential employers. But eventually the pace caught up with her.

“As an MBA student, you do everything, and you do it well,” Jozwicki explained. “But I finally had to accept that I couldn’t do everything perfectly, and I had to ask people to cut me some slack.” That meant cutting down the number of job interviews and conducting some over the phone instead of in person. She was nervous about how employers would respond to her having cancer, but it turned out not to be an issue. In fact, she had an offer from Chevron lined up even before her surgery took place.

Jozwicki obtained a handicap parking permit— cramped quarters on the bus exposed her already weak immune system to illness, and the walk from even the closest parking lot was exhausting. She told professors she might need to take tests at home or leave class early. Knowing she typically slept more than 15 hours a day, the MBA staff set up an inflatable mattress in a vacant office, giving Jozwicki an on-campus spot to rest.

Cancer survivor and McCombs alumna Katie Jozwicki“It was great to see the school be so supportive,” said friend Angela Reese, MBA ’07. “If I told a professor I was missing class to go with Katie to the doctor, they understood.”

Jozwicki completed chemotherapy in March 2007 and went on to the next step in her treatment, a series of 37 radiation treatments. Three days after radiation was finished, she graduated with her class, capping a semester in which she earned three A’s and one B.

A few weeks later, she traveled to Montana on a trip with First Descents, a kayak camp for young adults with cancer. “After facing all your fears with cancer, staring down class-three rapids really lets you take back some control,” Jozwicki said. “It was such an empowering experience.”

She now splits her time between working in Chevron’s Global Marketing Graduate Development Program in California and volunteering with First Descents and other organizations that support young adult cancer survivors, an often-overlooked population.

“Most of the programming for cancer patients is for little kids or older adults,” Jozwicki said. “There is a misconception that you won’t get cancer in your 20s or 30s. But young adults do get cancer, and we face unique problems—fertility concerns, dating, isolation, all exacerbated by a lack of programming and support geared towards young adult cancer patients.”

Jozwicki will tell her story to anyone—she carries a photo of herself with a bald head to help people understand her experience— and her friends are amazed by her spirit, but she insists it’s nothing out of the ordinary. “The feeling and passion you see is not unique to me,” Jozwicki said. “Other cancer survivors have it. We all speak the same language, we laugh the same way. It is something that connects all of us.”

Comments

#1 I interviewed Katie a few

I interviewed Katie a few years back and found her attitude among other things to be very, very inspiring. She's far too humble. :-) I'm proud she's a part of the McCombs family... and I hope to work with her in some capacity down the road.

#2 An amazing and incredible

An amazing and incredible story. Katie, I feel privileged to share the academic circle with you. Wishing you the very best in your endeavors after your MBA. Regards, Anurag Joshi (MBA 2000)

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