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July 14, 2003

Lancaster’s Evan Todd was Driven to Beat Cancer
and Graduate with Friends from La Salle University

It was the biggest assignment in Evan Todd’s collegiate career: beat cancer and earn his degree so he could graduate with his friends at La Salle University. In May, the cancer-free Lancaster native picked up his diploma at the school’s commencement exercises.

“My main goal was to walk down the aisle with my friends,” says Todd, who earned a degree in Marketing.

A healthy teenager who was active with volunteer efforts and jobs, Todd was losing weight in the spring of his freshman year. His mother was concerned, but Todd shrugged it off, saying he was getting thinner by not eating his mom’s cooking. But when he got really thin, that’s when she insisted he see a doctor. A biopsy revealed Hodgkin's Disease, which accounts for less than one percent of all cases of cancer in this country.

“He was completely in shock,” said Todd’s mother, Lois DeRosa. “He was very scared, but after a week he said, ‘I’ll do whatever I have to do to get to school and get well.’”

“One of the first things I did when Evan was diagnosed was to go out and buy a medical dictionary and Lance Armstrong's book on his fight with cancer which gave us hope, and was a very touching story of an athlete, a son and his mother,” said Lois DeRosa. “Evan has a strong will and showed great calm, optimism and strength throughout his illness. If I had to pick one word to describe him, it would be perseverance.”

Todd stopped attending classes that spring, and began chemotherapy treatments in May, undergoing the process twice a month. His hair fell out, and he had a few side effects, says his mother. During this time he worked part-time at a bank. But as the school year approached, Todd told his parents he was returning to La Salle.

“They knew it was my decision,” he said. “I respected their input, but they knew I was going to do what I had to do. My parents trusted me to make the right decision with my life. They knew that I felt the cancer was a nuisance and that it was not going to dictate the rest of my life. I’m stubborn. They knew not to argue with me. They knew I couldn’t just sit at home. I need to do a lot of things. I just couldn’t sit in Lancaster feeling sick.”

Todd’s stepfather, Nick DeRosa, said, “He looked at it as something he had to take care of, something he had to handle. He was pretty strong throughout the whole process. When he sees a problem, he knows he has to address it. This was no different.”

Todd returned to LaSalle for three courses (in which he earned all A’s) that fall semester of 2000, driving back to Lancaster for chemotherapy in September and October. Then in November, he took 12 radiation treatments in Philadelphia. But between treatment and studying, he still volunteered tutoring children. “I was better and my hair grew back,” he said. “It was the best Christmas ever.”

Once he restarted school, Todd worked to catch up with his class. Luckily, he lived in a dorm where Brother Gerry Fitzgerald, an accounting professor, also lived. “I could see how determined he was to stay with his peers and graduate (on time),” says Fitzgerald. “He had motivation, and drive, too.”

Fitzgerald worked with Todd on scheduling, and worked with other departments to help him reach his goal. La Salle’s Computer Science Department allows freshmen to receive credit for a required class if they pass a comprehensive test on the material. But the test has to be taken before the student starts at La Salle. At Fitzgerald’s request, Todd was allowed to take the test, and he passed. That made up three credits right there.

“He is one of the major reasons that I was able to graduate,” says Todd of Brother Fitzgerald. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have known what to do.”

Todd was eager to catch up with his classmates. After taking three courses his first semester back, Todd took five or six courses each subsequent semester. He completed two courses this summer, and obtained his diploma. La Salle’s policy is that a senior within eight credits of a degree can participate in commencement exercises.

Todd is currently working at E-Z Event, a marketing/event-planning firm in Philadelphia, started by La Salle graduates. He was an intern there during his final year at La Salle. He might be starting his new life, but the experience has changed him and his parents.

“Our family is now very serious about helping others who are facing cancer,” said Lois DeRosa. “When Evan was diagnosed, we really didn't have anyone to talk to with similar experiences, and we talked then of helping others if Evan got through this.”

For the past two years, Lois DeRosa served as an American Cancer Society Ambassador from Pennsylvania, traveling to Washington D.C., for the Celebration on the Hill, an advocacy event where she met with legislators to discuss cancer issues. She has also volunteered for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Light the Night Walks and First Contact Program.

This past year she facilitated a support group in Lancaster for Leukemia, Lymphoma and Blood Cancer Patients and their families for the Life Enhancement Center. Nick DeRosa, has a band called Rhino, and he has played free at cancer charity events such as Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Light the Night Walk and for American Cancer Society's Relay for Life held in Millersville each year.

By Katie Whalen and Jon Caroulis