Resilience is something Karen Wills knows well. After a summer of CT scans, blood work, ultrasounds and a diagnostic laparoscopy, she was diagnosed with appendix cancer in 2017.
“My husband, Matt, and I both cried, and our son, Talley, who was 15 years old at the time, was very calm and encouraging,” said Wills, program coordinator for the University Program Council Nebraska. “It was when our daughter, Liem, who was only 12 years old at the time, bawled her eyes out and yelled, ‘No, Mom, I need you!’ did I know that I had to do whatever was necessary to survive.”
It’s almost three years ago to the day that she sat down with a doctor at Nebraska Medicine to start her journey to recovery, one she said was driven by her desire to live for both her family and her University Program Council Nebraska students.
It is those students who have taught her the importance of dedication, passion, commitment, adaptability and perseverance, she said. And they’ve demonstrated those traits in the last several months, especially.
“The best part is seeing the excitement and pride my members have after months of planning an event and then watching it successfully take place,” she said. “As our mission statement says, we provide diverse, educational and entertaining programs to enhance the Nebraska community. We will do what it takes, whether we are in person or remote, to provide those opportunities, because students learn the most from their out-of-classroom experiences.”
Wills has worked as the UPC Nebraska adviser for 21 years and said she’s enjoyed watching the members grow, learn and develop personally and professionally year after year. And though this year is different than others, she has learned an important lesson while recovering from appendix cancer — the value of being able to connect virtually, both in her personal life and through virtual events.
True to her advocacy for positivity, health and safety, she encouraged Huskers to help keep the campus community safe.
“If my doctor can wear a mask during my 14-hour (surgery),” she said, “I think we can all wear masks while on campus.”