Incoming freshman Hannah Korycinski told her Facebook friends in September 2015 that Elon University was her Hogwarts equivalent — mandatory heart emoji included. But when Korycinski graduated from James Hubert High School in Maryland the following year, she packed her bags for the hospital instead of her new dorm.
She had been diagnosed with cancer.
One surgery, six cycles of chemotherapy and countless hours spent in the hospital later, Korycinski will be starting at Elon this upcoming fall semester. She plans to major in elementary education and psychology.
“I was diagnosed only a couple weeks before we were supposed to leave for Elon. It really took a toll on me, and it was really difficult,” she said.
Korycinski’s cancer was caused by neurofibromatosis Type 1, a genetic disorder she was born with. This condition causes the growth of potentially cancerous tumors along the nerves in the skin, brain and other parts of the body.
According to the National Institutes of Health, this genetic disorder affects one in every 3,000-4,000 people worldwide.
She said the hardest part of growing up with her condition was feeling different and not being able to do some of the things that others her age were able to.
At age five, she underwent surgery on her spinal cord and was told she could not participate in contact sports.
“That was difficult. When people would be like ‘Oh, why can’t you do this sport?’ or whatever, and I had to explain and it was hard for me to do that,” Korycinski said.
In July 2016, a biopsy revealed that the 18-year-old had a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor. She underwent surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in November.
The surgery went better than Korycinski and her doctors expected.
“The surgeon originally thought I was going to lose all function in my left arm, but I have full 100 percent function in my left arm,” Korycinski said. “The surgeon was very, very happy about that, and I am very happy about that, too.”
Korycinski’s mother, Abby Sandler, said she, too, is pleased with the results of her daughter’s surgery and proud of Korycinski’s outlook.
“She’s had such a positive attitude about how she’s faced this and always tried to keep her eyes on what she’s looking forward to,” Sandler said.
Korycinski and her family knew her diagnosis meant college would have to wait a while.
“It upended our whole world,” Sandler said. “I think to her, she was more upset about the fact that she wasn’t going to make it to Elon this year than she was about the cancer diagnosis. She had been counting the days until we packed the car and headed down there.”
Instead, Korycinski submitted a deferral.
Elon receives fewer than 20 deferral requests each year, according to Vice President of admissions Greg Zaiser, but that number is increasing. Applicants may request a deferral to pursue a gap year to travel or work or, such as Korycinski, for health reasons.
“Requests are considered on a case-by-case basis and must be submitted in writing to the dean of admissions,” Zaiser said in an email. “We have to watch this number carefully so we can make sure we meet enrollment goals appropriately.”
But this deferral wasn’t the end for Korycinski.
“She was putting her life on hold for a year so she could have it back,” Sandler said.
Korycinski is a bright young woman, according to her mother. Korycinski will happily share how much she enjoys writing short stories and reading Harry Potter. While she was undergoing chemotherapy at the hospital, she began reading the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series.
Though she will have to return home to Maryland for follow-up MRIs after the fall 2017 semester begins, Korycinski said she does not expect that her condition will cause her any trouble at Elon, nor does she want to delay her arrival any further.
She said she is looking forward to her arrival “100 percent.”
Sandler knows it will be difficult for her to send her daughter off to college but said it would be difficult regardless of the circumstances.
“In some ways, it might be a little easier knowing everything she’s been through this year,” she said. “It has definitely been a perspective-changing experience for all of us.”
Korycinski has no intention of letting what she has undergone limit her.
“I definitely think I’m going to bounce back,” she said. “I think, because of all of this, I’m going to become a stronger person and have a more open outlook on life.”