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Transfer Student Finds Strength in the Volunteer Experience

Students come to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with unique stories, and many of them journey through college celebrating adulthood and independence. But for Taylor Arlington, who graduates in December from UT, that journey has looked quite different. Taylor was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the fall of 2019, which is extremely rare for someone who was 19 years old.

“My journey has definitely been an interesting one, and there is a lot to it,” Taylor said. “With that being said, I can proudly say that I never once lost myself in the mess of challenges thrown my way.”

Taylor is majoring in psychology and sociology with a concentration in criminal justice. She has moved around quite a bit, born in Iowa and living in Michigan, Georgia, and then South Carolina to attend Limestone University. At Limestone, Taylor played collegiate soccer for two years before quitting due to her illness. She came to UT for medical and financial reasons, and the adjustment was not easy.

“I had just lost soccer which had been a part of my life since age four,” Taylor said. “I kept myself busy as much as I could and ended up getting randomly assigned to live with some of my current best friends.”

Since arriving at UT, faculty and staff have made that transition more comfortable with their time, support, and understanding. “I have had the opportunity to talk and work with so many amazing professors who, not only supported me in every way possible, offered up their time to be someone for me to talk to if I ever needed to vent or get something off my chest.”

Kathleen Modica-Forster, an academic coach with the Academic Success Center, has been someone Taylor can talk to and receive guidance. “Kathleen has been my biggest blessing, and someone who I have truly looked forward to speaking to every single time that I get the opportunity to,” Taylor said. “She is a constant reassurance and support when I need it most and genuinely cares about my journey.”

“Her attitude and energy during our coaching sessions are simply inspiring,” Kathleen said. “She always smiles and never complains about what she is going through.”

To celebrate her journey, Taylor has four tattoos, each with a story and special meaning. The first is a butterfly, which her sister designed, that Taylor got two days after her diagnosis. It is a butterfly on her right wrist with an upside-down cancer ribbon for its body. There are several meanings behind the tattoo, such as a butterfly representing the shape of the thyroid and its location on the right side of her body where the cancer began. “I knew there was a long journey ahead and that I needed something to be a constant reminder that I am stronger than anything thrown my way,” Taylor said.

For Taylor, being a Vol for Life means lifelong connections and relationships between friendships and opportunities to better an individual’s chances for success. “No matter what challenges arise, there is always going to be an entire team behind you that is going to do all that they can to ensure your success,” Taylor said. “I am a living example of that.”