First-year Kathleen Modder had her world turned upside down on Dec. 2, 2021, when she received a diagnosis of Hürthle cell thyroid cancer. However, she hasn’t let it put a brake on her education, athletics, or extracurriculars. She’s also sharing every step of treatment on her Instagram blog, Kathleen’s Cancer Chronicles, where she encourages all of her followers to “fight like a girl.”
When Modder was first diagnosed, she didn’t even know what a thyroid was. She didn’t want any other patient to share that feeling of powerlessness, so she began to document her treatment online. “Throughout my journey, I have connected with lots of girls my age who have gone through similar things,” Modder says. Her blog aims to demystify cancer treatment by decoding scientific jargon and explaining the biological processes step by step, and also highlights her transition to college.
Modder was first invited to visit Rhodes from her hometown of Annandale, VA, as a swim recruit, but she ultimately chose to enroll because the campus felt like home. At first, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to major in, aside from it being related to science. Informed by her first semester of classes, her lived experience, and Rhodes’ connections to nursing programs, she decided on a chemistry major with the intention of becoming a pediatric oncology nurse.
While maintaining a full schedule of classes, Modder swims for the Rhodes varsity swim and dive team and recently contributed to their conference win. However, finding a balance of classes, sports, and treatment isn’t a breeze. “I had gotten out of the hospital four days before the meet, and I wasn’t even sure I was going to make it there,” says Modder. “There are a lot of things that are out of my control, but I know I am doing my best.”
Managing the side effects of her medications has been Modder’s greatest challenge in her transition to college. Her body can no longer regulate calcium on its own, and finding the right medication dosage has led to some difficulties. “I went to the hospital four times last semester and have been once this semester because my calcium was too low and then too high,” says Modder. “Sometimes I have really bad days where I can’t swim or I can’t go to class. Giving myself grace has helped me a lot, mentally and physically.”
Beyond academics and athletics, Modder recently joined the Delta Psi chapter of Tri Delta and is a member of Rhodes Pinky Swear PACK, an organization that supports childhood cancer patients and their families. Modder says that everything she does, from her career pursuits to extracurriculars, are other ways that she can help give back to the childhood cancer community.
Above all else, Modder seeks to raise awareness about thyroid cancer, and, more generally, all types of childhood cancer. “I wish people knew how underfunded childhood cancer is. The government only allocates 3.8 percent of the cancer research budget for children,” she says. “This results in kids having to get treatments that were meant for adults. These treatments have lots of long-term side effects that impact kids for the rest of their lives, if they survive the cancer.”
Despite regular hospital visits and emergency room stays for side effects, Modder does not plan on slowing down—in fact, she uses every visit as an opportunity for more advocacy. Ending every Instagram post with #fightlikeagirl, she reaffirms her tenacity to all those supporting her and provides hope for other childhood cancer patients.
By Hannah-Elsie Meit ’25