Liana Zwick

Breast cancer survivor attains academic goal with patience

May 29, 2008

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By Carol Thorbes

What a difference a year has made in Liana Zwick’s life. This time last year, the SFU graduand had just undergone 16 days of radiation as part of a rigorous 15-month treatment program for an aggressive form of breast cancer.

This June, the 41-year-old mother is obtaining her Bachelor of General Studies on time and with a very respectable 3.8 cumulative grade point average.

When she was diagnosed in August 2006, Zwick was more than half way through her degree as a member of the first cohort in SFU’s Liberal and Business Studies satellite program at Selkirk College’s Castlegar campus.

At the time, she was taking two days of classes every second week, holding down a part-time job as the campus human rights advisor and caring for her then five-year-old daughter Jessica.

"I was devastated. I didn’t want to give up my studies after investing a year and half in them," says Zwick, who took sick leave from work to undergo a single mastectomy. She continued on with her schooling, never missing a class or an assignment despite weathering eight sessions of chemotherapy and 16 sessions of radiation.

Zwick remembers using a broomstick after her surgery to stretch out her arm every two hours in one of her classes. One time she was so sick from a chemo treatment that she had to be hospitalized for two days, after which she drove straight from the hospital to a class to make a presentation. Her husband drove her to and from her treatments in Kelowna and Nelson.

Zwick says it was "patience, perseverance and persistence" that motivated her to complete the three-year program with nine of the original 18 cohort members. But she also exemplifies how facing down fear, staying focused on a goal and having a solid support network can make someone unbeatable even in the face of adversity.

"I am so grateful for the support I got from family, friends and professors," she says. "Taking yoga to relax and keep up my strength and focusing daily on finishing my degree kept me going. I also learned quickly that half the battle of beating cancer is winning the mental game of fear associated with it."

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