A Fresh Chapter

Melissa Carroll Scholarship Recipients

meet scholarship recipients

A Fresh Chapter
Changing Lives, One Participant at a Time

The Melissa Carroll Legacy Fund, created in honor of Melissa Carroll, a member of the first A Fresh Chapter India Odyssey tribe, provides supplemental funding to participants selected to participate in A Fresh Chapter Odyssey programs. Since 2014, The Melissa Carroll Legacy Fund has provided partial scholarships to twelve program participants. Learn more about their stories below.

If you are interested in learning more about how to apply for a scholarship or make a donation to The Melissa Carroll Legacy Fund, please visit us here.

Robyn Brown (Costa Rica 2017) Read More

I signed up for A Fresh Chapter because it sounded exciting, like a trip of a lifetime. I wanted to get over my fear of reoccurrence. I found so much more in Costa Rica.  I found acceptance and compassion. These beautiful people “got” me, they had stories similar to mine. I’ve learned to look at people through different eyes. My volunteer placement was in an elementary school.  I geared up for this by having my students in the United States write to my Costa Rican students.  I had the idea that these students were in need of volunteers.  It turns out I was the one who needed the experience.  These amazing happy students just wanted a friend.  The students are not spoiled, have very little but they are full of joy.  I had them write letters to my students in Utah, they were so excited to write to their new friends.  I’ve learned that I need to slow down and be grounded in the moment, not to wish my life away.  I can be brave by living my life the best I know how.  That is all I can ask for myself.  For now, you will find me taking photos, writing in my journal and snuggling my children a little tighter.

Geena Heaton Read More

The past two years were the most challenging I’ve ever face. At 24 years old, I had just graduated college and was on my way to becoming a California Highway Patrol officer, when it felt like someone pulled the e-brake on my life while I was driving 80 mph. The past two years of doctor’s appointments and emergency room visits finally made sense when I was diagnosed with a primitive neuroectodermal tumor, Ewings Sarcoma. My initial surgery to remove an 8lb tumor playing Pac Man on my rib cage was successful – so successful that I thought I was cancer free. Then, less than two weeks after surgery, I found out I would spend the next year in the hospital, being blasted with chemotherapy. As of May 1, 2016, I am now cancer free – with PET scans every three months. Cancer has been a gift (a gift I would return, mind you), but still a gift. Cancer allowed me to see life in a way that many people only dream of. I recently returned from an amazing trip with A Fresh Chapter where I had the opportunity to volunteer in Cartago, Costa Rica at a day center for disabled people ages 21-64. At first I was skeptical about volunteering abroad. What could I bring to assist at this facility? Would I be of any use?  But, my experience exceeded any expectations I had set! The participants didn’t speak a word of english and it didn’t stop them from having eyes full of joy. I couldn’t get over how eager the participants were to have me and the other volunteers around to join them for projects and games. Words can’t describe the impact of my experience with A Fresh Chapter in Costa Rica. I have learned values such as the importance of self acceptance, collectivity, and love and I am so grateful I had this opportunity.

Gaby Perez-Espinosa Read More

A Fresh Chapter offered me the opportunity to not only connect with other survivors, but to also volunteer in both an underprivileged daycare and with a cancer support organization in Peru. I have always enjoyed helping others, but to be able to give back at an international level was truly a humbling and incredible experience. It was a form of healing and a sense of peace to know that regardless of my cancer and all the ways I now consider myself “broken”, I was still able to bring smiles, happiness, and hope to the amazing individuals I connected with in Peru. Among the other 26 incredible people who joined me in Peru, I was able to be a different type of me. I didn’t have to wear the “I am fine” mask or the multitasking hats that I do in my everyday life. I was able to just be Gaby, – the girl who still has fears and deep scars from dealing with cancer over the last six years. I was able to be vulnerable, I was able to be honest, I was able to real. I didn’t have anyone trying to fix me, or tell me that it was going to be ok; I just had people that held space for me to share what I felt I needed or wanted to.

My Peru Odyssey Program was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it would not have been possible without the support of the Melissa Carroll Legacy Fund (MCLF). I cannot thank the donors and the Carroll Family enough. Your generosity not only allowed me to be a part of a new group, it allowed me to be a part of a new family – a tribe. Although our time in Peru may have been short, the memories and friendships created will always remain. My scholarship from the MCLF inspired me to give back to my community with the same form of kindness. As part of my ripple impact plan, I committed to volunteering at my local hospital with pediatric cancer patients and have already completed 100 volunteer hours. It sometimes can be bitter sweet as I know firsthand what these families are going through; but I am hopeful that my presence can provide a level of joy and comfort. My personal cancer story may have been a dark chapter in my life, but now I feel that helping others cope with their diagnosis will help me start a fresh chapter.

Bin (India Odyssey 2016) Read More

The Melissa Carroll Legacy Fund made it possible for me to have one of the most incredible experiences of my life and has given me the opportunity to travel and volunteer in a land I had only dreamed of visiting. After being diagnosed with prostate cancer in October of 2014, many of the hopes and dreams I had for my future all but stalled. And while I’m grateful for the medical treatment that has helped me regain my health, it’s because of special organizations like yours and A Fresh Chapter that have really helped me heal my soul and focus on my true passion –which is caring for others.

One of the things I’ve learned during my time in India is how important it is to be there for someone else. I have learned that even while going through my own life challenges I can be available to help others who are suffering and may have it worse off than I. This lesson has helped me find a new sense of gratitude and now I am thankful for even the smallest of things which I formerly had taken for granted. Because of this new found gratitude I have decided to pay it forward by creating a men’s health awareness and cancer support organization called MACHO (Men Actively Creating Healthy Outcomes). I hope to inspire men to educate themselves about their health and more importantly pay it forward through volunteering and creating support services for other men whose lives have been impacted by cancer. I am so thankful for Melissa’s legacy and to the Carroll family for helping me find my new “Fresh Chapter!”

Tanessa (Peru Odyssey 2016) Read More

After being treated for breast cancer in 2014, I knew I needed A Fresh Chapter. In the previous few years, I had lost loved ones to cancer and was trying to make sense of my grief and survival. I was a stay-at-home mom, whose children usually took priority. It was hard to find the time to heal and reflect. The Peru Odyssey sounded perfect, though I had real concerns about the cost. I knew that if I did not meet my fundraising goal, my family would be unable to cover the remaining cost of the trip. Thanks to the Melissa Carroll Legacy Fund, much of the financial burden was lifted. I was also excited to develop a Ripple Impact plan that would allow me to give back, by teaching a writing workshop to youth in my community.

In Peru, I worked with girls who were victims of human trafficking. My job as a volunteer was simple. We helped with homework, did crafts, danced, taught English, learned Spanish and gave the girls the love and attention that was missing from their lives. There were many aha moments along the way. My favorite was when we shared with our girls that we were cancer survivors. They stared blankly, not indicating they understood or even cared. The next day, our site supervisor told us that, after we left, the girls went online to look up cancer. They were startled to discover what we had been through and realized that we were not just volunteers, we were “strong women.” We became their role models for overcoming adversity. They also inspired us each day. We were all giving to each other and making an impact, even in our brief time together.

Eliel (India Odyssey 2016) Read More

The C word! The last thing that crossed my mind when I went to see my doctor for a particular pain was that he would tell me I had Testicular Cancer. I had just returned from a very successful business trip, my career was at it’s highest point, I had a beautiful family and was financially stable. All that changed immediately (except for the beautiful family). After a year of surgeries, treatments and emotional roller-coaster I felt empty, depressed and without purpose.

In a search for answers, I decided to go to a retreat that focused on the “new normal” after Cancer. On that retreat I met Terri, her personal story and what she was doing through A Fresh Chapter inspired and motivated me tremendously. I went back home to my regular routine but could not stop thinking about A Fresh Chapter. I immediately felt that this trip would help me find my way again and fill the emptiness I was feeling. So I made the call to Terri, just 3 weeks before the India Odyssey departure. It seemed impossible, but through the generosity of the Melissa Carroll Legacy Fund and Terri believing in me I was able to make the trip. There is so much about this trip that impacted me, but I have to say working with kindergarten/1st graders at an underfunded school in the slums of Delhi was an amazing experience. Even if my time with them was short I felt that I connected with so many kids. Their smiles, gratitude and spirit filled my heart with joy and really put life in perspective. Being able to share my feelings, getting out of my comfort zone and making new amazing friends has really helped me now that I am back home. I feel less anxious, don’t wake up depressed and have again found a new meaning to life. The journey for me does not end with India, it is just starting. I am committed in getting more involved in my community and around the world in helping others who like me at some point did not know what to do with life after Cancer. I am forever grateful to Life, The Melissa Carroll Legacy Fund and Terri Wingham for the opportunity I was given.

Ashley (India Odyssey 2016) Read More

In the fall 2015, after nearly four years of “waiting and watching” my brain tumor, my doctor suggested I move from MRIs every four months to every six months. This felt liberating, but also opened up a new idea for me – I might live much longer than I expected! Anxiety set in as I started to worry about my career trajectory, my relationships and where I’m going in this new life. Through some Google meandering I ran across A Fresh Chapter.

A Fresh Chapter resonated with me for several reasons. First, I’ve recently had the impulse to travel and explore more of the world. Second, I fully identified with Terri’s mission to be curious about my living with cancer self. And finally, I immediately trusted any journey Melissa Carroll felt to be worthwhile. I never met Melissa, but knew of her via the young adult cancer community. I felt connected to Melissa through her art, as I had used art to help navigate my cancer related emotions as well. All this combine – the trip felt necessary. And upon hearing that I had the Carol family support via the Melissa Carol Legacy Fund, the trip felt even more meant to be.

It’s hard to put the experience of India with A Fresh Chapter into words. But one aspect that I experienced and have brought back to my life in LA has been the ability to more fully appreciate subtle moments. My volunteer placement in New Delhi was with the Tamana School of Hope for autistic students. One 7 year-old girl couldn’t concentrate on her work. She ran around the classroom humming. One day, I sat down with her work at the table and hummed. Eventually she came to stand next to me. She was nonverbal. She couldn’t make eye contact. But as long as we hummed together she focused on her work. This 30 minutes of humming shifted my whole perspective.

Now that I’m home, the pressure of life still exists. I’m still defining my new chapter. But with the ability to appreciate the small moments, I’m no longer filled with anxiety. I’m able to easily move through the twists and turns of the road ahead.

Katrina (India Odyssey 2016) Read More

When I was 33 yrs old I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Two weeks prior, my husband was diagnosed with Colon cancer. Our children were 1 1/2 yrs and 5 months old. My first round of treatment was not successful and I was told I could have as little a 3 months to live. I had a stem cell transplant and am approaching my 3 year cancer-free anniversary. I was surprised with the opportunity/scholarship to participate with A Fresh Chapter. I have always wanted to see India and was absolutely stunned when I was told I was going! And not only that, but to share this experience with other people who were ‘like me’ was such a bonus. I’m still processing the experience, but I definitely think about the women we worked with at Mother Theresa’s and wonder how they are doing. I miss my tribe immensely!

Deborah (South Africa Odyssey 2015) Read More

Deborah is a six-and-a-half year cancer thriver. After receiving generous support from different non-profit cancer care facilities during her treatment, Deborah was searching for a way to pay the kindness forward. Through FCAF’s Cape Town, South Africa program she was able to do just that and more. Deborah volunteered at Etafani, an inspiring grassroots foundation that provides programs supporting children and their caregivers affected by AIDS. In Deborah’s words: “Volunteering allowed me step beyond my story of ovarian cancer and to experience the joy of giving back. I hope my experience in South Africa will help me step into “a fresh chapter” of my life.” Since returning home from Cape Town, Deborah has continued to give back. As part of her Ripple Impact Plan she is currently launching Sky Health & Wellness, a non-profit integrative medicine center for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers.

Suleika (India Odyssey 2015) Read More

After three and a half years of of cancer treatment I found myself at a crossroads wondering, “where do I go from here?” My dear friend Melissa Carroll had gone on A Fresh Chapter Program a few years ago and the experience had been transformative for her. A trip to India seemed like the perfect way to both honor her memory and to mark the beginning of a fresh chapter. I didn’t have any dramatically life-altering expectations from my time in India. As they say, you bring your problems and accomplishments with you, even if the street signs are in a different language. But I believe in the power of travel and taking stock of what’s good in your life to break the chain of routine, uncrinkle the mind and to grow the spirit. This was certainly true of my time in India. I came home with a fresh perspective on my life and a beloved tribe of friends who I continue to regularly see to this day.

Leslie (India Odyssey 2015) Read More

First, cancer took the color out of my life. My days became a draining parade of doctors’ visits, arguing about medical bills, and doing grunt work to pay them. Worrying about my future, whether the cancer would come back. Wondering if my identity was now “cancer girl.” Then I arrived in India. Everything was different. Brilliant with color, filled with strange sounds and smells. And then there were the other Fresh Chapter tribe members. I thought I was allergic to groups, then I found myself a member of this amazing family, new friends who had no trouble seeing the new me, because they didn’t know the old, and weren’t burdened by expectations or history. I could be myself, figure out who that person now is. And I found a way to connect again.

And that carried forward into my volunteer placement. I wasn’t sure I was up to teaching English to a group of kids, to handling a classroom, to creating fun ways to learn. It seemed an impossible task, not to mention that I was sure I’d feel like a dork. Then I asked the students to tell me a little about themselves, and what they want to be in the future. They couldn’t. It broke my heart. But by the end of our two weeks, they were proudly standing before the group, stating their goals. And they all had dreams. My hope is that I helped them live into those dreams, and that something of what I tried to convey stuck. I fell in love with each one of them. They changed me forever.

And, most importantly, there were entire days where I did not think about cancer once. My identity is so much more than a disease. I had forgotten that. And now I’m alive, and colorful, again. That would never have happened without A Fresh Chapter and the Melissa Carroll Legacy Fund.

Diana (India Odyssey 2014) Read More

Diana was looking for people to connect with who understood what she was going through. “I didn’t want to join a support group that dealt solely with the disease — I needed more,” she said. That’s when she heard about A Fresh Chapter. Now a two-time A Fresh Chapter (Alliance Foundation) alumna, she first attended the pilot program in Los Angeles. From volunteering at the Garden School Foundation to hiking to the ubiquitous Hollywood sign to learning how to meditate, a practice that has now become a treasured part of her everyday routine, she knew she had found her tribe. Through the generous support of Melissa Carroll’s Legacy Fund, Diana was also able to travel to India, a dream come true for her. “Standing at the Taj Mahal is awe-inspiring,” she said. “It makes you feel like anything is possible.” She volunteered as a math and English teacher in a school and had the opportunity to meet and to learn from other cancer survivors in Delhi, an experience she found deeply inspiring. “Being a part of A Fresh Chapter changed my life. The people I met through the program became more than friends. They are family. We rally around each other and support each other.

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