Kelly Maiden, C'18

May 11, 2018
Thriving despite mid-program cancer diagnosis, made possible by the support of faculty and staff.

Kelly Maiden, C’18, has had a passion for education for as long as she can remember. As a young mother, she took a job at a preschool to be closer to her children during the workday. It provided a great balance of working, serving and being available to her family. She continued her job at her children’s preschool long after they moved on to elementary school. After she sent her youngest daughter off to college, it was time for Maiden to go to school to fulfill her dream of being a public school teacher.

”I went with my kids to preschool and never graduated,” Maiden shares. “And when my daughter went to college, I finally got to go to college.”

Maiden started back to school at Reynolds Community College, where she earned her associate’s degree in early childhood development. In 2015, she transferred to UR’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies (SPCS) to complete her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with a concentration in elementary education. But Maiden’s long journey toward becoming a teacher quickly took a detour. As she sat in class one evening, she excused herself to take a call. It was her doctor with news that she had breast cancer.

Maiden’s cancer diagnosis was an example of a what she refers to as the constant struggle between home and school priorities for adult students. Fifty-year-old women tend to have their priorities straight and in order, she notes, but once you return school, you’re constantly being asked to rearrange your priorities and pulled in several different directions.

“School wants to be first, and family wants to be first,” Maiden said.

The ongoing struggle of priorities forced her to sharpen her time management skills. Maiden also made an effort to work ahead on school work when she could to avoid any potential conflicts between home and school. The encouraging and supportive community at SPCS also helped keep Maiden on track.

Everyone from her stellar faculty to the advisors and other staff helped to create a sense of community. At first, Maiden was surprised at how tight knit the school community was and how caring its faculty and staff were. People knew her name. They were genuinely interested in how things were going for her, and more importantly, what she was getting out of the program.

Maiden recalls, with a smile and a giggle, “For the first few weeks, I kept going home and saying ‘Everybody’s so nice. People aren’t really that nice?’” speaking of the entire team at SPCS. “But they genuinely seem to be that nice.”

That genuine concern and kindness was apparent to Maiden throughout her illness and recovery. At first, Maiden considered staying in school during her treatment, and the faculty and staff supported her decision. When she realized that wasn’t realistic, they were just as supportive. Maiden had to take off two semesters, but the faculty and staff kept up with her throughout her treatment. When she came back to class, the faculty and staff made sure she had the right course load to transition back to school and that she didn’t miss out on any teacher licensure regulation changes that may have impacted her course of study.

“I feel like the whole University said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is happening to a student, and we need to make sure that she’s taken care of,’” recalls Maiden, noting that returning to school was a motivating factor throughout her recovery.

“It was not enough for me to merely survive cancer, I wanted to thrive. The love and support of family and friends and the knowledge that I would be returning to campus after treatment is what enabled me to do just that,” Maiden reflected.

It’s been a long journey for Maiden to realize her dream of being a teacher. As Maiden reflects on her time at SPCS, including her breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery, she does so with a wide smile. There are no tears because she’s a survivor and continues to take steps towards her dream job. She has completed her bachelor’s degree. She’s met her teacher licensure requirements. And she’s interviewed for a teaching position as part of a federal preschool program in Henrico County.