Nicole Williams was just five when she told her mom she wanted to be a nurse.
Her mom told her to aim higher.
"‘You can be a doctor. I see the potential,'" her mom, Lisa, told her.
At the time, Lisa was a 32-year-old mother of two diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
She battled, enduring the pain of the cure through the initial diagnosis, the relapse four years later, the Burkitt's lymphoma that followed, and on to her current mark of seven years cancer free.
But when a family member gets cancer, everyone fights. Nicole's battle? She plans to become an oncologist.
"Watching oncologists with my mom, you knew they cared. I liked the way they walked her through uncharted territory."
A biology major and math minor (pre-med emphasis) at Doane, Nicole participated in the college's summer research program, studying gene expression, specifically the N-cadherin gene and why it's expressed inappropriately in cancer cells, allowing them to move and metastasize.
She plans to be in the lab long past college, seeking both MD and PhD titles.
"I want to work with patients and do research to try and fight (cancer) in two different ways."
She feels like she's starting at the right place. Doane's Pre-Med Advisory Committee works closely with students, ensuring they know the path ahead and how best to walk it.
"They ask me: Are you volunteering? Doing internships? Job shadowing? How will this activity strengthen your résumé?
Because of the committee, Nicole knows what she needs to score on the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and will complete a practice test and mock interviews.
The results of the committee and supportive faculty speak for themselves. In 2008, 100 percent of Doane students who applied to medical schools were accepted, while only about 46 percent of all applicants are admitted nationwide each year.
Pre-med students also find support from their peers through Doane's Health and Medical Occupations Club. It's just one activity on Nicole's list of organizations and volunteer roles, including Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Doane Student Congress and the Crete Area Medical Center.
Not surprisingly, Relay For Life is on the list and Doane's strong program came as a surprise.
"Doane's event is unlike any other Relay event I've been around. It's huge."
Doane ranks first in its region and third in the nation for Relay For Life fundraising among colleges its size, raising more than $52,000 for cancer research in 2008.
Relay is Doane's trademark service event, with nearly half of the student body and a large cross-section of the faculty and staff participating. Last year, Nicole and her suite mates came in second in dollars raised by a single team.
She serves on the survivor committee for the April 2009 event.
Cancer shaped her childhood, Nicole says, but that's not all bad.
Her parents couldn't always be there to cook a meal or remind her to turn in homework. So she learned to be independent.
Cancer comes back.
So she knew how lucky she was to have her mom and dad there when she graduated from Seward High; how lucky she is to be able to call and say: "Mom, I was selected to Doane's Honors Program. Mom, I'm going to study abroad in Ireland next year."
She turns to her mom, a fulltime RN at Bryan LGH, for questions and inspiration.
Her mom teases about how she can pay her back.
"She jokes that when I'm an oncologist, I'll finally be able to take care of her."