Jacob Keys was only in the second grade when, in the summer of 2007, he began to feel lethargic and lost his appetite – symptoms that culminated in a diagnosis of stage four Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a cancer with a 26 percent five-year survival rate.
“I didn’t know what to think about it because I was so young,” the Cedarville native said. “I was definitely scared, because we would do these fundraisers in school for kids who are at St. Jude’s Children Hospital. And now, all of the sudden, I’m at St. Jude’s.”
Ten years later, Keys is cancer-free and a student at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, but his challenges battling cancer earned him a $4,000 scholarship from the We Care Foundation to help him with his studies at UAFS.
The We Care Foundation gifted the scholarship to Keys in exchange for him serving as a counselor at Camp Dream Street, a one-week camp for children who have suffered or are currently suffering from cancer and other blood-related diseases. The scholarship bestows $500 each semester for eight semesters and will go towards purchasing books for Keys, who is pursuing an associate degree in welding before continuing towards a bachelor’s degree in biology.
It was a long road for Keys to become a college student. After being diagnosed, Keys spent a year doing chemotherapy. It was a difficult time that separated their family – Keys and his mother alternated between stays at St. Jude’s and the Target House, an apartment for long-term patients, while his father and younger brother stayed at home.
His treatment was strengthened by a “Natural Killer” cell transplant, an experimental procedure at the time. Keys was just the 27th person in the U.S. to have the procedure performed on him.
“They took fighter cells from my dad, which took five hours for one syringe,” he said. “Then, they injected me through my catheter, and it took five minutes. They actually said that’s what cured me along with chemo and meds.”
After going into remission for three years, Keys went back to St. Jude’s and was deemed cancer-free. As a cancer survivor, he began going to the Donald W. Reynolds Cancer Support House for counseling. During that time, he learned of Camp Dream Street.
After attending as a camper for five years, he decided he wanted to be a counselor.
“I like being with the kids and knowing that I’m not alone in having a rare illness,” he said. “And being a counselor is fun because I get to work with the other counselors and be creative in coming up with ideas to make the camp fun for the kids.”
Ten years later, Keys said he doesn’t remember much of his yearlong battle with cancer. But he said he’s happy to still be alive and pursuing an education.
“I feel accomplished that I’m still here,” he said. “And I’m very grateful for this scholarship. It’s very helpful and is definitely saving me some money.”
About the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith
The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is the premiere regional institution of Western Arkansas, connecting education with careers and serving as a driver of economic development and quality of place in the greater Fort Smith region. Small class sizes, dedicated faculty and staff, affordable tuition rates, and a diverse on-campus culture allow UAFS students to fully explore their areas of interest in ways that prepare them for post-graduate success academically, professionally, and personally. To find out what makes UAFS just right for you, go to www.uafs.edu.