Kentucky Can Improve Lives: Bradley Wilson

Photo by Mark Cornelison/UK Marketing and Public Relations

Bradley Wilson, a 2019 chemical engineering graduate, has spoken to alumni, friends, parents and community members on behalf of Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign multiple times. This spring and summer, he traveled to Louisville, Atlanta and Chicago and explained how scholarships enhanced his college career. Read his speech below to see how Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign is changing lives through scholarship support.

My name is Bradley Wilson, and I graduated in May with a degree in chemical engineering. I have loved my time at the University of Kentucky, and thanks to your generosity, I was able to attend college debt-free. Now, I am headed to medical school to pursue my dream of becoming a pediatric oncologist.

I can never repay UK for all it has given me, but I have made it a point – through my extracurricular activities and chosen profession – to pay forward all of the blessings I have received.

Growing up in Louisville, I was lucky. I attended a good school, played sports and had a wonderful, supportive family. 

But when I was 13, I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Feeling terrible, I went to the hospital in the summer of 2009. As soon as I was placed on the gurney, I went into septic shock. My heart stopped for 22 minutes, I spent 10 days in a coma on a ventilator and stayed for three months in the hospital. 

Though I endured many years of chemotherapy and treatment, I was so sick that the doctors could not give me full doses of treatment. The medicine they gave me weakened my body, requiring two wrist surgeries and a double hip replacement.

An experience like that forms you. It makes you who you are. When so much is out of your own control, the only thing you can control is your faith and your attitude. I chose to be positive, to be resilient, and having that outlook has served me well. 

In 2013, after nine months of remission, my cancer returned just as I was applying for college. I had been accepted to the University of Kentucky and awarded a Singletary Scholarship, one of the university’s most distinguished scholarships that covers room, board and tuition. 

It was my dream. I wanted to study engineering, and I knew UK had the best program in the state. Attending UK would also position me well for medical school and afford me opportunities I could not have anywhere else.

Despite spending months in the hospital, I was determined to attend UK in the fall of 2014. I did not want to reschedule my interview or receive any special treatment. I wanted to be treated just like any other applicant.

Perhaps I was overly ambitious. I forgot how rigorous and all-consuming cancer treatment could be. As my doctors told me, there was no way I could start school in the fall of 2014.

UK graciously offered to hold my scholarship and admitted me the next year. And though it has been difficult at times, attending UK has been the best experience of my life. I felt supported by all areas of campus. 

Housing placed me in a residence hall closest to the hospital. Disability services made sure all of my needs were addressed and I had special accommodations while I was in treatment. And the College of Engineering prepared me for the next phase of my life.

But my scholarship is really what made the difference. It took away all of my worries. I did not have to think about housing, food, how to pay for classes or trying to secure a job. Support like yours helped me focus on what truly mattered – my academics and getting better.

Now, I hope to become a pediatric oncologist. I want to pay forward what was given to me. I want to show other families that they can get through this, too. And I feel pediatric oncology is an area I am both passionate about and uniquely gifted to serve.

My story came full circle. Formerly a patient at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, this year I served as the family relations chair and coordinator of DanceBlue, a 24-hour dance marathon to support the children treated in the DanceBlue Kentucky Children’s Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic. I spent time with children and families during the dance marathon and coordinated shifts of people to visit the children and families in the hospital.

Instead of receiving treatment, I helped Dr. Jessica Blackburn research zebra fish and cell-free DNA, which could help us understand cancer relapse and create better treatments for leukemia.  
Today, I am cancer free and pursuing my dreams, and none of this would have been possible without donors like you. You lifted a huge weight off my shoulders and allowed me to focus on learning. You equipped me with the care I needed to heal and provided me opportunities to inspire and to comfort others. 

Thank you for all you have done for students like me. 

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