Rachael Niehart ’10

Family studies and human services, Overland Park, Kansas

With her 10-month-old son cooing in her arms, Rachael Neihart recounts how scholarships helped her beat cancer and get her degree at Kansas State University.

Rachael’s life changed drastically at the beginning of her sophomore year at K-State. It was recruitment week and Rachael had just moved into her sorority house when her parents called to tell her she had to come home right away — she’d been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare and deadly blood cancer. She needed chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.

Rachael took the fall semester off to focus on getting better. As her health improved, she was able to take online classes that spring semester and return to campus her junior year. But while she was away, she wasn’t forgotten.

“While going through the hardest time of my life — physically, mentally and spiritually — I felt the support of the entire K-State community rally around me,” Rachael said. “I felt loved and cared for, even during that year off from school.”

During Rachael’s year off, the KSU Student Foundation began a new campaign to help their fellow students called K-State Proud, which raises money to give Student Opportunity Awards to students who have exhausted all other forms of financial aid. When Rachael returned to K-State, she still had medical bills and travel expenses for doctor’s appointments in Kansas City, on top of school costs.

Heather Reed, in the Student Life office, nominated Rachael for a Student Opportunity Award to help cover her school and medical expenses, which were significant since Rachael was too old to be on her parents’ insurance.

“Receiving the Student Opportunity Award was a real blessing,” Rachael said. “It was a struggle — student loans plus a large amount of medical bills. The award was a huge help for my family and me during that time of need. Without this help, I wouldn’t have been able to pay my tuition.”

Rachael always had a desire to help others, and her illness helped her focus that passion. She got her sorority involved in supporting Be The Match bone marrow registry by organizing three large recruitment drives on campus. After graduating from K-State in 2010 with a degree in family studies and human services, Rachael went to work for Be The Match for several years, then on to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“I really felt my career path and passion was formed while at K-State,” Rachael said. “So I was able to give back in that way as well.”

Rachael’s journey helped both her and her husband, Jim, find their passion helping cancer patients. Jim, also a K-State graduate, is a medical physicist helping cancer patients in radiation oncology. Rachael continues to advocate for blood cancer awareness in her community and volunteers with both Be The Match and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Rachael and Jim look forward to growing their family through adoption. 


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