Scholarship fund helping Everett cancer survivor attend college

Not much rattles 20-year-old Sammy Loch.

Not after surviving a malignant brain tumor and flesh-eating bacteria.

“I moved past my fears in a lot of ways,” she said. “Silly things don’t matter as much.”

Well, unless that silly refers to actor and comedian Will Ferrell.

Loch will share some laughs with Ferrell at a September benefit in Seattle to raise money for Cancer for College, a scholarship fund for cancer survivors.

The Everett native will receive $3,000 this year from the national charity started 20 years ago by Ferrell’s college buddy, Craig Pollard, who saw firsthand how cancer can devastate a family not only emotionally but also financially.

Many students lose traditional scholarships opportunities because their cancer limited academic, sports and extracurricular activities, said Cancer for College spokesman Greg Flores.

“The heartbreaking thing is we receive hundreds of applications and grant 50 to 75 a year, with about 10 in the Pacific Northwest,” Flores said. All proceeds from the Ferrell event will go for regional students.

Loch, a junior at Western Washington University, received $2,500 from Cancer for College in two previous years, as well as smaller amounts from two other cancer scholarships.

“It helped tremendously,” she said. “Otherwise it would make going to school challenging and possibly impossible.”

This year, she will be living off-campus in an apartment.

Five years ago, at times she had to be carried up the stairs of her Everett home after treatment.

“I was dependent completely on my family and doctors to take care of me,” Loch said. “One of my biggest fears was that I would never be able to be independent and be out on my own. College was this freeing experience of independence and I proved to myself I could do whatever I wanted to do.”

She’s still on the mend. She takes 11 pills a day. As she writes on her blog, sammyloch.blogspot.com: “I have trouble remembering things sometimes. I have over four feet of surgical scaring on my body. My ankle and foot don’t function normally.”

The worst is behind her, though. “I had my 13th clean MRI. Five years cancer free,” she said.

She’s spent her share of time in the diagnostic tool. “I used to have an MRI playlist,” she said, music that occupies her during the long procedures.

She volunteers at camps and events for children dealing with cancer. She is majoring in psychology and sociology. She wants to be a child life specialist. “It’s taking care of the person side of the patient as opposed to the medical side. Helping them deal with the situation,” she said.

“It envelops everybody. There is so much focus on person who is sick. It takes a toll. A lot of stress. It’s life-changing for person it happens to but it’s life-changing for the whole family.”

With the bad comes good.

“It was the worst experience I ever had, so I never expected it to have such a positive impact,” she said. “It gave my life direction.”

She was 15 and two months into her sophomore year of Jackson High School when the horrible headaches and nausea struck.

Migraine medications didn’t help, so after a month the doctor said, “Just to be on the safe side I’d like to do an MRI.”

That was at 3 p.m. By evening, her bags were packed and she was on her way to Seattle Children’s Hospital.

She underwent 10 months of radiation and chemotherapy for the tumor, a medulloblastoma. After the first round, a bacterial infection known as necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating disease, attacked her leg. With surgery and 41 days of aggressive treatment in the hospital, her leg was saved.

“In a lot of ways the infection was scarier than the cancer,” Loch said. “It was so chaotic and you didn’t know was going to happen next. Where with cancer they have a roadmap, you are going to do this treatment and this is the time span and these are the tests.”

Illness changed her road map in life.

“Before I was diagnosed, I was heavily into theater. I wanted to do every show. It was the forefront of my life,” she said. “I was going to be a stage manager for ‘Beauty and the Beast.’” She wasn’t able to return to school until her junior year. Too weak to work on stage sets, she gave all she had in the classroom and graduated on time.

She spoke at graduation about obstacles, but downplayed her own.

“We all have things that are significant and challenging. Nobody’s thing is greater than somebody else’s,” she said. “Everybody has things they have to overcome and challenges they face. Not making the soccer team is big deal if that’s the most important thing in your life.”

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.

Cancer for College fundraiser

“Approximately 90 Minutes with Will Ferrell and Some Other People,” is set for 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19 at Meany Hall at the University of Washington, 4140 George Washington Lane NE, Seattle. Tickets are $75 to $500 for VIP seats that include a pre-show party and signed gift from Ferrell. More information: www.cancerforcollege.org.

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