‘Her resiliency is amazing’: College graduate beats cancer 3 times

It's graduation day for a Wisconsin senior who beat cancer three times.
Published: May. 14, 2023 at 12:36 PM CDT
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WHITEWATER, Wis. (WISC) – A college student graduating this year in Wisconsin has beaten cancer three times.

Hollyn Peterson graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Whitewater. Her story of resilience began long before her college career.

“I feel like it’s been a long time coming,” she said. “I have no idea where I’m going to end up.”

Peterson is graduating and giving a speech at her university’s commencement in front of hundreds of fellow classmates, friends and professors, hoping to inspire them through her own life experiences.

It’s hard to tell now, but Peterson was diagnosed with cancer when she was five years old.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask me like, Hollyn … how do you not give up because you have the worst luck,” she said.

Peterson said she had major surgery and chemotherapy at that same young age.

The treatment worked, but then Peterson said she relapsed.

“It came back when I was seven and then unfortunately it came back a third time,” she said.

Peterson said she had to learn to be resilient in her early education.

“I missed over 650 days of school so, like, when I was going back I just had no clue what was going on,” she said.

However, with ongoing treatment and more surgery, Peterson persevered.

When it came time to decide what she wanted to do after high school, she said she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. Her high school art teacher encouraged her to take up an art major.

“‘You’re going to go to college and you’re going to go to art school and you’re going to become an art teacher,’ and I was like, ‘No, I’m not’,” Peterson said.

While in college, however, Peterson said she found herself switching majors from communications to art, going down a journey of self-expression through her years of treatment.

“It gives me catharsis when I’m painting,” she said. “I think as a freshman here, I was very much like I wanted it to be pretty, I want it to look nice, and as the years went on it was more about the emotion that I was getting.”

One of the people who supported Peterson in her journey through college is Greg Porcaro. He said he met Peterson in the fall of 2020, when classes were conducted remotely.

“I’m incredibly proud of her, and she was an exceptional student both academically and also as a human being,” Porcero said. “She’s a very genuine, kinda grounded, humble young woman, and I can attribute that to just the struggles that she had at an early age. Her resiliency is amazing.”

As she moves on from her college career, Peterson said she hopes to spread a message to her classmates to be thankful for the life they have.

“You were able to accomplish this and you’re here at graduation and look at what you have done and, like, there’s so much more that you’re going to do and that you can do,” she said.

Peterson said she next plans on attaining a master’s degree in fine arts at Syracuse University in New York.