When she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in the fall of 2020, then 27-year-old Katlyn Eaton was a newlywed in the middle of her first semester at Zane State. Her journey to complete her Education degree was an uphill battle, yet she has made it through. This coming Thursday, May 12, 2022, Katlyn is preparing to walk across the stage at Zane State College’s Commencement.
Born and raised in Coshocton, Ohio, Katlyn always enjoyed spending time with children. Her husband, Tanner, a Zane State College alumnus, had talked about how she should consider enrolling in education classes at Zane State College. In addition to Tanner, Katlyn’s mom encouraged her to earn an education degree. “My mom has been a big part of my academic journey. She would always remind me how good I was with kids and motivated me to go to college,” Katlyn said.
After researching the Education program at Zane State, she realized the curriculum would be a good fit and help her get closer to her career goals. At orientation in the summer of 2020, she met Education Program Director Kara Walsh and made an instant connection. “I could tell she cared about her students, and she made me feel more comfortable about the program. Kara helped me schedule my classes for the fall semester,” Katlyn explained.
Katlyn recalled her first day at Zane State and felt reassurance from seeing a dragonfly. “My grandma passed away after I graduated from high school, and she had a huge influence on me as a teen. Our family has said if she were to come back to earth, she would be a dragonfly. I saw a dragonfly on my first day at Zane State. At that moment, I knew I was on the right track,” Katlyn said.
She started the fall semester feeling driven and learning how to balance school work and home life. She enjoyed spending her free time with Tanner, their Siberian Husky and Jack Russell, and their chinchilla. Just as Katlyn was getting into the groove of being a full-time student, she started feeling ill. “In the fall of 2020, I was feeling sick. I thought maybe I had a toothache or a sinus infection, but my neck was also swollen. Throughout November and December, I had testing, scans, and biopsies. I was diagnosed with Stage One Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the end of the fall semester,” Katlyn said. This form of cancer impacts the lymphatic system throughout the body.
In late December 2020, the doctors informed Katlyn that the lymph nodes in her neck were affected. On New Year’s Eve weekend, Katlyn started chemotherapy treatments. As a new student with just a semester under her belt, she said, “this put a wrench in everything and flipped all my plans around.” However, she does remember getting some good news. She made the fall Dean’s List, and she used that accomplishment as a form of motivation to get through spring semester classes.
Susceptible to colds and infection, Katlyn had to transition to entirely online and remote learning. While she was shocked by her cancer diagnosis and forced to make significant life changes, she felt the idea of not being on campus with her college peers was her biggest upset.
Katlyn’s chemo treatments lasted from January through March, and then she had radiation treatments for the two months following. “Chemo treatments were four hours long and took place once every other week, and I would go to those on non-class days. I would be wiped out after the treatments and would sleep. There was a point when my body was reacting, and my mouth felt like it was on fire,” she said.
Katlyn explained that schoolwork was a distraction and helped her think about something other than her battle. With the flexibility and support of Kara and other Zane State instructors, she stayed focused on her studies and took one day at a time. And in true Katlyn style, she earned Dean’s List once again in the spring of 2021.
“I think there was a point when I worried about not being able to battle cancer while attending college. But I realized how capable I was. If I was able to make Dean’s List while going through treatments, I knew I could make it through to earning my degree,” she said.
Following treatments, returning to campus was a struggle. Tired and winded, “walking to class felt like miles long.” She knew she had to limit herself and be more careful about what she attempted to do. And she had to deal with some anxiety. “I was nervous that the cancer would come back. I would put on a brave face, and my brain did a good job of masking things. I feel that navigating the new me after cancer has made me realize I am strong. This experience will help me to be a good teacher, too. This journey has changed me, and I feel stronger now than ever before,” Katlyn said.
In the fall of 2022, Katlyn will begin her next chapter at Muskingum University. “I feel at home at Muskingum University just as I have at Zane State College. I plan to double major in the Early Childhood Education program and Intervention Specialist licensure program. Having this training under my belt, I can get closer to my goal of having an inclusive kindergarten class one day,” she said.
Thank you for sharing your story, Katlyn. You are a true inspiration, and your Zane State College family will be cheering for you on Thursday night … and for the months and years to come.