Intro: SAN DIEGO STATE UNIVERSITY STUDENTS WHOSE FAMILIES ARE DEALING WITH CANCER ARE NOW GETTING MORE SUPPORT.
KPBS HEALTH REPORTER SUSAN MURPHY SAYS A NEW PARTNERSHIP IS GIVING COURAGE TO STUDENTS IN CRISIS.
Script: 19 year old Cameron McCullough is like any other college student…. Making friends,
01:07:19 (McCullough hugging teammate) It's so good to see you
Trying out for the volleyball team, pursuing his dreams.
00:10:54 MCCULLOUGH: Hopefully in the next three years I'll apply to PT school and hopefully get in and that way I'll have another three years before I can get, say work or my own practice.
But the tall, blond pre-physical therapy major from Point Loma is carrying a heavier load than most students. His mom, his only family, is fighting for her life.
00:12:06 CAMERON: So two years ago she was diagnosed with stage four cancer, leukemia. And then it spread to other places like her hip -- she has a deteriorated hip.
The devastating diagnosis forced his mom, a registered nurse, out of her clinical researcher job. Medical bills piled up and depleted their finances. McCullough's part time job didn't stretch far.
00:11:11 MCCULLOUGH: My mom is so headstrong, it's crazy. And despite everything she's just like so loving to me. (00:11:34) She will fight until the end for everything no matter what…
McCullough says he didn't open up to many people about the anguish he was going through. (Sot of Cameron talking to his friend about his mom)
Until he got a demand for payment notice taped to his dorm room door.
00:13:22 CAMERON: Saying you have this much due. Pay it or you would have to leave in this certain amount of time.
Another overwhelming bump in the road, says McCullough.
00:29:06 There's a reason to never give up. No matter how hard life gets, no matter what I'm dealing with at the moment, I'm not gonna quit.
At about that same time, Tammy Blackburn, who works on campus with SDSU Alumni was battling breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. Her year long treatment impacted her deeply.
SAN DIEGO STATE UNIVERSITY
10:52:26 BLACKBURN: I kept feeling something tugging at my heart about what I was seeing. And I was seeing some incredible things at the cancer center and some things were very sad to me that there were people sitting alone during chemo…
The SDSU alumna and Aztec basketball star from the early 90s decided she had to do something.
10:52:54 BLACKBURN: I know that I can't change the world but it really hit my heart in a way that I started thinking about - if this is happening, then there must be something happening at San Diego State with our students Our students must be feeling the same pain and anguish because cancer does not discriminate.
With no children of her own, Blackburn contacted financial aid administrators to find out how she could help students affected by cancer.
10:54:37 BLACKBURN: I'm not doing this because I think I have to, I'm doing this because it's my calling.
(Katie - not sure if this will work in this spot) 11:08:21 My life will forever be left with an indelible mark of a journey that was not easy. I was scared and I didn't know what was going to happen. But I made it and I want the students and their families to know that they can too.
She came up with the idea of creating The Courage Through Cancer fund -- by reaching out to friends, colleagues and the community.
10:54:12 BLACKBURN: That would be accessible to them immediately. Something they wouldn't have to apply for and wait to hear if they were a winner of a scholarship --but emergency crisis funds.
SDSU Financial Aid and Scholarships Director Rose Pasenelli says emergency funds are desperately needed. She coordinates the university's Economic Crisis Response Team (ECRT) which stepped in to secure food and some housing costs for McCullough when they learned of his situation.
SDSU FINANCIAL AID AND SCHOLARSHIPS
00:44:48 PASENELLI: So financial aid hasn't been able to keep up with the growing cost of higher education. And for a student, even a low income student who receives grants, there's still a gap between the cost of attendance and what we can offer in free money grant funding.
She says McCullough is not alone.
00:45:26 PASENELLI Well last year we had 151 students put in ECRT referrals. This year so far we have 31 -- and that's from June through today.
Tammy Blackburn's new found purpose in life led her to Cameron McCullough and his mom. Blackburn went to their home last month to give some good news.
00:00:09 We will be able to pay for this sophmore fall -- we're going to pay for your tuition, all of your university debt.
He was the first recipient of the fund. This time they were overwhelmed with tears of joy.
00:00:27 BLACKBURN And we're also going to be able to pay for your books -- your entire slate of your kineseology and anything for your undergraduate.
Today, their bond remains strong.
10:32:51 He's stuck with me whether he likes it or not. I think about the day when he's going to be in viejas arena walking across the stage in his cap and his gown accepting his degree and we're all going to be there.
Cameron McCullough knows his years at SDSU are giving him a lot more than an education.
00:21:57 MCCULLOUGH It's taught me to stay focused and humble and through adversity keep pushing.
Just like those who are surrounding him, he plans to help others along the way.
Susan Murphy, KPBS News.