MU senior Ariel Shifter is holding on to her positive attitude, despite being given a piece of problematic news last June.
Shifter was diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.
Despite currently undergoing chemotherapy, Shifter is also training to compete in the St. Louis Rock-n-Roll Half-Marathon this October through Team in Training, a fundraising program through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which has trained over 600,000 athletes since its debut 26 years ago.
Shifter said she has an ultimate goal of raising $12,000 to go toward research for blood cancer cures.
"I work with the team, and I work with the individuals to help them to come up with a fundraising plan,” TNT campaign manager Richard Sloan said. “They set their personal fundraising goals, whether it's a letter-writing campaign or a social media campaign, which (Shifter)'s been very successful at, actually.”
Along with supporting research efforts to find new treatments and cures for blood cancers, Sloan said the organization also uses its funds to financially support patients and their families.
"We're the largest fundraising arm for the (Leukemia and Lymphoma) society,” he said. “The money that (Shifter)'s raising is going to help local patients in the area. Our Gateway chapter will cover the area from surrounding areas of St. Louis all the way over to Columbia, and then areas down in Arkansas and parts of southwest Illinois."
In order to train for her half-marathon, Shifter said she is doing all she can to take advantage of the days she feels healthy enough to exercise. Her workouts typically consist of running in local parks or working out between breaks at work.
"I really have to listen to my body,” she said. “I want to push myself, but I have to be careful. I usually have a solid week where I feel almost normal, so on those days I try to do the best I can. I appreciate … the days where I feel healthy and each workout feels like a huge success to me rather than a chore, like it used to."
Shifter said her inspiration to run in the Rock-n-Roll Half-Marathon came from her goal-oriented nature.
"My body is challenging me, so I want to challenge it right back,” she said. “And if I can help support research to save the lives of others while doing it, then that just makes it a million times more rewarding.”
Shifter's boyfriend, Conan Zhu, will also be participating in the half-marathon on her team, Ariel's Amigos.
"She is one of the strongest individuals I know,” Zhu said. “I can't imagine having to go through what she is doing. She has learned how precious each and every day of life is and to never take it for granted. She's learned how damn tough she is."
Zhu said Shifter always remains optimistic and continues to look for positives despite her situation. He describes her as "a much more confident individual who is more comfortable in her own skin."
Since her diagnosis, Shifter said she's been trying to keep her life as normal as possible.
"I still go to work and hang out with friends,” she said. “I've had to become a bit of a germaphobe because chemotherapy makes it really easy for me to get sick. Some days I just feel the need to sleep a lot, and I've learned I really have to listen to that and not fight it.”
Shifter said she is amazed by the extent of support she has received since the diagnosis.
"My parents have been phenomenal, but that isn't surprising because they always are,” she said. “The amount of people who have reached out to me offering their help and support has really been awesome. The more stories I hear about the connections people have to blood cancer, the more I realize how important what we're doing through TNT and LLS is."
Shifter said she believes her general outlook on life has improved over the past several months.
"The timing of all of this has really helped me to just take a step back and realize what is important to me and that life isn't all about good grades, resumés and acceptance letters," she said.
However, she said she hopes more people learn that having cancer doesn't necessarily have to mean your life is over.
"Cancer doesn't discriminate, that's for sure,” she said. “I have met people of all ages that have suffered through blood cancer themselves or with a family member. It is terrifying, but it is something to be aware of.”
Shifter said she feels lucky to have a curable, early stage of cancer and feels that if she can defeat her illness, she won't have an excuse when it comes to other, seemingly smaller problems.
"Hearing the stories of other people who have had or currently have blood cancer really makes me feel fortunate to have such a great prognosis, and that is all because so much money and time has gone into research that will allow me to live a long, healthy life after cancer," she said. "I feel it is only right for me to do whatever I can to give back to that, so others can someday have a similar prognosis."