FHHS Grad Erin Hediger is an Inspiration

Posted on 07/10/2017
FHHS Grad Erin Hediger is an Inspiration

To be an inspiration, one must first be inspired. The story of Francis Howell High School (FHHS) graduate Erin Hediger could be that inspiration. Hediger is a Biology/Pre-Physician major at the University of Missouri-Columbia, which sounds like a daunting task. Hediger, however, has conquered a more formidable challenge – she beat cancer. And if you ask her, her triumph was made possible because of the Francis Howell School District community coming together. Hediger was recently selected as a scholarship recipient by the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults’ Scholarship Program.

Hediger was awarded the Jamie L. Roberts Memorial Scholarship through the
4K for Cancer Program, a national nonprofit that organizes cross-country runs and bike rides to raise awareness and garner support in communities for those impacted by cancer. Hediger has been impacted by cancer, for sure, but she hasn’t allowed it to alter her path or her attitude. 

A Broken Summer FHHS Grad Erin Hediger
Erin was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in May of 2016. She was 19 years old. “You’re not prepared for something like that. (My family and I) were all shocked at first, and then it started setting in.” The Memorial Day weekend followed, and the family had plans. “We tried to enjoy the weekend as best we could, but the news was a bit of a distraction.” After returning from vacation, Erin had to undergo six rounds of chemotherapy in June and July, with the school year looming. “It actually worked out where I got all my chemo done over the summer,” Erin said, speaking of her treatments with such courage that one would think she were merely speaking of getting her school supply shopping done over the summer.

Dr. Susan Luedke of Mercy Health performed the chemotherapy treatments, and last fall Erin received radiation therapy at the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, part of the University of Missouri Hospital System.

A Community Rallies
Mary Hediger, Erin’s mom, believes the FHSD community is a major reason why Erin has kept her spirits up. She said, “We give lots of credit to the teachers, coaches, and staff at FHSD, FHHS, and in particular Kim Potts (her counselor), who were instrumental in helping shape the type of student, leader, and person Erin has become.” Potts said, “Erin is an outstanding student and leader whose maturity and career focus have always been evident. She is respectful, kind, and reliable, and one of the sweetest young ladies I’ve had the pleasure to know during my education career.”

“I love Mrs. Potts,” Erin said after hearing Potts’ description of her. Overwhelmed by the support she has received, Erin talked about the many FHSD community members who visited her or sent her messages of encouragement. People like Independence Elementary Choir teacher, Bill McDade. “He stopped by when I was going through chemo, and was instrumental in keeping all my previous teachers informed with what was going on with me, as well.”

The outpouring of well wishes reminded Erin of the supportive FHSD community. “I was in the choir and drama clubs in high school, and you get to know a lot of the booster parents, and all the great people involved in those clubs. In theater, we called them the ‘Drama Mommas.’” They came over to Erin’s house to visit and check on her, with bags and pans of goodies in hand. “That was just really nice and lifted my spirits,” Erin said. “It was really nice to see them and know they were thinking of me, because these are like second moms to me, like (FHSD Board of Education President) Rene Cope.” Erin went on to mention several other moms, such as Cindy Angeli, who also reached out to her, too many to name in this small space. More of the FHHS and FHSD family reached out. Karey Fitzpatrick, FHHS Choir Director, and the FHHS Women’s Chamber Choir also sent a card, signed by the members.

“People I hadn’t talked to in years were reaching out to me, former classmates, Facebook friends, and others,” Erin said. “It’s the little things like that; just to let me know that people do actually care, really made a difference to me.” Which is a good reminder to us all. Her sorority at Mizzou,
Phi Mu, helped as well, going with Erin to her treatments. A sorority sister and fellow FHHS graduate – Amanda Gladstone – made and sold rubber band bracelets that said, “Phi Mu 4 Erin,” the proceeds of which went to cancer research. “I didn’t ask her to do that; she and her mom took it upon themselves to do that, and I was just blown away and touched by that.”

Erin sees her cancer now more as a chance to fathom just how many people care about her. “Even if you don’t know the person well enough,” she said, “don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who’s going through something like this – even if it isn’t cancer, and just a life-changing event.”

Inspiring Others
Despite all she’s been through, Erin still managed to carry a 4.0 GPA along with a very challenging course load. While others with similar struggles may have made a list of things they’d like to do when they feel better, Erin made a different list – the Dean’s List at Mizzou. She was also accepted into the Beta Beta Beta Biology Honors Society, all while receiving radiation treatments in Columbia. Yet Erin still felt she needed to give something back, since so many were helping her through her troubles, and began tutoring at the Mizzou Learning Center. Erin is also giving back by organizing events to assist two cancer support organizations, Delete Blood Cancer and There Goes My Hero.

The Jamie L. Roberts Memorial Scholarship is named after a 4K for Cancer participant whose life was tragically cut short while riding the cross-country trek in 2014. Jamie’s upbeat personality was infectious, and therefore Erin Hediger is the perfect choice, exhibiting those same qualities.
Team San Francisco, who are riding in Erin’s honor, will present her with her scholarship award in St. Louis while they are on their cross-country journey, in front of the Muny in Forest Park on Thursday, Aug. 22, at 12 PM. Many of the riders are cancer survivors, as well. “Seeing them come out and be inspired by you, I’m inspired by them in wanting to give back this way. Getting through cancer is an accomplishment itself; you survived with the help of your family and friends. But to get recognized by people who are trying to raise awareness about cancer, resources for those with cancer, and just try to make a difference in the world and put an end to the disease, it’s a real honor.”

For Erin, beating cancer has taught her a lot. “The greatest takeaway I have from this is to be as kind and genuine as you can to people,” Erin said, “because it can really make a difference in their lives.”

As Kim Potts said, “Enthusiastic and polite, Erin serves as a great role model for her peers. Overcoming cancer is just another example of how Erin inspires all of us to be the best we can be each and every day.”

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