Undergrad stays the course despite cancer diagnosis, treatment

Dan Klevorn

Dan Klevorn balanced his first two semesters at UMSL with a battle against cancer. His coworkers at the UMSL Triton Store are among those who helped him maintain a positive attitude. (Photo by August Jennewein)

On top of the typical challenges that come with transitioning to college, Dan Klevorn encountered an additional test his freshman year: cancer.

One moment he was listening to a University of Missouri–St. Louis math lecture, and the next he was headed to an oncology floor at Mercy Hospital.

“The doctor said, ‘It’s Hodgkin’s lymphoma,'” said Klevorn, recalling the whirlwind day back in September 2013. “I had chemo that same night. They put in a port, and the chemo started at 9 p.m. and ended at 4 a.m.”

Now in his second year at UMSL, the Ballwin, Mo., resident is in remission and feeling better than he has in a long time.

“I have a lot more energy,” he said. “I can be a normal college student – meaning I can stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. and be ready to go at 8 a.m.”

That’s a stark change from what his life was like just a matter of months ago. Klevorn spent close to a week in the hospital that first semester and then had a long road ahead of him after being discharged.

“I was like, ‘What am I going to do?'” he said. “I just kind of went with it, and my family supported me.”

So did fellow students, faculty and staff, and Klevorn’s coworkers at the UMSL Triton Store. In addition to allowing Klevorn to work a more flexible schedule while he underwent months of chemo, his friends at the bookstore created a Relay for Life team in his honor.

“They named it Dan The Man,” said Klevorn, a communication major. “We raised $3,300 [in the 2014 UMSL Relay for Life].”

When David Lewis, director of Student Retention Services, discussed with Klevorn the possibility of taking the rest of his first semester off, Klevorn opted to try to keep up with his studies, difficult as it would be.

“I felt so bad some days – I would walk into class, and I was just so skinny and cold, but I went to class,” Klevorn said. “I finished the entire semester and ended up doing really well. The only days I ever missed were if I had chemo.”

Lewis describes him as an “amazingly dedicated” student.

“Even in his toughest days, Dan’s positive approach and dedication to achieving his goals were remarkable,” Lewis said. “I work with many students in my capacity, but Dan is truly a standout in the crowd.”

Klevorn hadn’t been feeling well for several years leading up to the fall 2013 diagnosis. An avid soccer player in high school, he started having back pain in tenth grade. He dropped to a weight of 150 pounds, had little appetite or energy and struggled to stay awake in class.

“It just got kind of worse and worse,” he said. During the summer before college, Klevorn finally saw a doctor and underwent several tests. At first the issue appeared to be an iron deficiency, and for a few days, Klevorn took pills that seemed to do the trick.

“I felt so great for about three or four days – then a couple days later I just lost strength and broke down,” he said. The search for answers went on as Klevorn transitioned to his demanding college schedule and continued to struggle physically.

“I was in school, I was working at the bookstore – they were long days,” Klevorn recalled. The long series of treatments added to the load that first year, but he stayed positive. He drew on his network of support as well as inspiration from a famous 1993 speech given by the late basketball coach and ESPN commentator Jimmy Valvano.

“He just kind of touched on different things that I should do, like not give up,” Klevorn said. “There were times when I was so tired of chemo, I was just so ready to be done.”

Then one day in early April, just before undergoing yet another round, the doctor told him, “I think this is going to be your last one.”

That news came the same week as UMSLs 2014 Relay for Life event, making it even more special for Klevorn.

“It was an amazing event, and there were other survivors there,” he said.

This year’s Relay for Life event at UMSL is set to begin at 6 p.m. April 17 in the Mark Twain Athletic & Fitness Center. The event is filled with activities, entertainment, contests and ceremonies, with highlights including Giant Twister, Life Sized Hungry Hungry Hippos, 100 different giveaways and more.

The UMSL Experience


Short URL: https://blogs.umsl.edu/news/?p=56059