Scarborough residents Kristen Caldwell, right, and her older sister Megan, in this undated photo. Caldwell was inspired to study political science in college after helping her sister through a battle with cancer. Courtesy / Kristen Caldwell

SCARBOROUGH — Kristen Caldwell was 15 years old in October 2016, when her older sister, Megan, was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.

Now 19, Kristen is happy to report her sister is a survivor, going into remission after four rounds of chemotherapy. But she knows that’s partly due to the health insurance her family has, which so many other families don’t.

That’s why she’s now studying political science at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., paid for in part by Northwestern Mutual’s Childhood Cancer Sibling Scholarship, according to an announcement from the foundation on Dec. 21, 2020.

“So many families, cancer families in particular, may not have access to that,” said Kristen, who hopes someday to work in politics to address health care needs in America. “We need people who have the courage to go into this subject.”

Kristen said she and Megan, who is two years older, have always gotten along well.

“We are very close,” she said. “I swear, we’re like best friends.”

She said Megan was not afraid to push her out of her comfort zone. Both girls were competitive swimmers, but only because Megan talked her baby sister into it.

Kristen Caldwell, who is one of the first recipients in Maine to receive Northwestern Mutual’s Childhood Cancer Sibling Scholarship, is studying political science at George Washington University. Courtesy / Northwestern Mutual Foundation

Megan’s diagnosis came as a shock.

It started with stomach pains, and after going to the doctor in October 2016, she faced emergency surgery and the diagnosis, at age 17, of late-stage cancer.

“I remember just trying to stay strong for my parents,” Kristen said.

She recalled contacting her brother, Kevin, who was 20 years old at the time and at Michigan State University, to deliver the news.

“It was definitely a hard thing to do,” she said.

Kristen said the next several months consisted of hospital visits while Megan underwent four full rounds of chemotherapy before doctors declared her cancer in remission in February 2017.

During that time, the sisters sat together to watch movies and TV and Kristen also helped her sister get up and walk around, when possible.

“We did everything we could to make her time in the hospital as exciting as possible,” she said.

The whole experience, Kristen said, has made her relationship with Megan stronger.

“She is like my rock, my idol,” she said.

“We know that when a child is diagnosed with cancer, a family is diagnosed with cancer — the disease impacts their lives emotionally, physically and financially,” said Eric Christophersen of Northwestern Mutual Foundation, who’s been offering the scholarship since 2017.  “As lasting financial challenges often result from expensive cancer treatments, our Childhood Cancer Survivor & Sibling Scholarship program was created to provide both survivors and siblings of those impacted the opportunity to continue their education and pursue their college dreams.”

This year, the foundation has awarded 43 students a $5,000 scholarship each, renewable up to $10,000, and Christophersen said Caldwell is among the first recipients in Maine. Applications for the 2021 scholarship program are open through Feb. 1; see foundation.northwesternmutual.com/scholarships/.

“Kristen, like all of our applicants, is an inspiration — following her sister’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, she is pursuing a degree in political science with the goal of impacting healthcare legislature to help other families affected by cancer receive affordable treatment.”

Sean Murphy 780-9094

Email: [email protected]

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