kelly kimCaption: Kelly H. Kim is going to work in Washington, D.C., on a fellowship upon graduation. Photo: Greg Andersen Download

Surviving and Thriving

Student Beats Cancer Twice, Lands D.C. Fellowship

As she completes her bachelor’s degree this month, Kelly H. Kim is so thankful to be alive that she is making the most of her time.

The healthy 22-year-old public administration major was diagnosed at 11 with a brain tumor. After six years and two surgeries, she has been pronounced cancer-free.

“As a cancer survivor, I have a greater sense of urgency to live my life with purpose,” Kim said. “Tomorrow is never promised, but we often become comfortable in the ‘daily grind.’ My cancer journey has helped me prioritize my values and really invest in things that matter: family and friends.”

Kim will take part in commencement ceremonies Sunday, May 20, and beginning this summer, she’ll be making another investment in things that matter. She will begin working for the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining as a Kettering Public Administration Fellow, following a 10-week training session in West Virginia.

Kim was invited to apply for the fellowship by CSUF alumnus T. Allan Comp (B.A. history '65), coordinator of the Office of Surface Mining/Volunteers in Service to America Teams, who she met last summer as an intern in his office through the Cal State Fullerton Washington DC Internship Program.

The Back Story

Kim was in elementary school when the onset of minor seizures in 2001 led to a diagnosis of cancer. Medication initially controlled the seizures, until a particularly violent episode led to the successful surgical removal of the tumor.  

While she continued to experience minor seizures, Kim was able to control them with medication, resume going to school and playing soccer, basketball and softball.

Five years after her initial surgery, a second violent seizure in late 2006 prompted a second surgery, during which doctors removed a second tumor that had gone undetected on any brain scans.

Jan. 1, 2007 was the first day of Kim’s cancer-free and anti-seizure-medication-free life.

“I understand the obstacles we endure are so trivial, and they’re not worth stressing over in the grand scheme of things,” she said. “My life is a testimony of the higher purpose I have to fulfill. It gives me the motivation to keep working toward my goals and wakes me up when I get too complacent with life.”

CSUF Journey

After graduating with honors from Troy High School in Fullerton in 2008, Kim started her freshman year at Cal State Fullerton with a scholarship from the American Cancer Society.

She joined the university’s Colleges Against Cancer Club that year and became the survivorship chair of the first Relay for Life event on campus in 2009. The 24-hour event, which begins on a Friday night each spring, raises money for cancer research and survivor support. More than 400 people took part in the relay this year and raised more than $27,000.

Besides the Cancer Club, Kim joined the College Republicans. She completed an internship two years ago with Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), and plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy after she completes her fellowship. 

Congressional Kudos

Royce, a CSUF graduate (B.A. business administration-accounting ’77) who has known Kim and her family for decades, said he’s watched her “grow up into a fine young lady.”

“Kelly faced serious life challenges at a young age and despite that, she’s always been positive, caring and thoughtful beyond her years, and she concentrates on helping others,” he said. “I know that she will go far in life, and I wish her the best as she enters another chapter in her life.”

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