Fellow classmates might know Maddy Pease as a friendly face, a lacrosse player, a traveler, a retailing major, the winner of the 2017 Fashion Board Design Challenge or a senior graduating with leadership distinction. What they might not know is that she accomplished all of this while quietly battling cancer.
"I don't think a lot of people feel comfortable having a disability or talking about it,” Pease said. "I didn't expect to have this happen in college, but there's a lot of support here on campus. There's no shame in asking for help.”
Pease was diagnosed with cancer during her sophomore year. Although she has beaten back the disease, she lived through many scary days and hasn’t talked much about her condition with her classmates. But as she gets ready to graduate, she wanted to share her story in case it might help a fellow Gamecock facing a personal struggle while in school.
"I'm so far past it that I feel like maybe I can help people now," she said.
Pease was new to USC and the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management when the diagnosis came. The Virginia native attended Columbia College on a lacrosse scholarship as a freshman, but the smaller school did not offer the retailing major she wanted. She planned to transfer to a Virginia school for in-state tuition, but then learned that the Academic Common Market could allow her to attend USC at in-state prices.
"I immediately knew this was where I needed to be, and I've never regretted the decision,” she said. “I love this place."
"Of course I'm biased, but I think the relationships we have with faculty in our college are the best. That support was something that really stemmed a lot of difficulties for me."
—Maddy Pease, retailing graduate
When Pease faced her fight against cancer, including surgery to remove her thyroid, she found the place and the people in it loved her back. Support came from everywhere.
One instructor introduced her to his wife, who had beaten the same disease and could offer insight and comfort. Professor Jung-Hwan Kim wrote a letter of recommendation for her for a Cancer for College scholarship. Professor Mike Moody welcomed her to his office regularly to discuss classes and careers, and helped connect her with internship opportunities. Others worked with her as her health made keeping up academically a challenge.
She laughs when asked to name those who have been most helpful and influential along the way. "If I could list every professor I've had, I would."
"Of course I'm biased, but I think the relationships we have with faculty in our college are the best,” Pease said with a smile, looking back at the fight she won and the academic workload she handled. "That support was something that really stemmed a lot of difficulties for me."
As a senior, Pease won the student designer competition at USC’s Fashion Week. She had never tried her hand at designing for anything like it before, but her new outlook served her well. "My designs were inspired by these recent shifts, traveling, being adventurous."
Pease learned a lot about herself during her time at USC, and those lessons led to changes in her future plans. In the fall of 2016, she had a solid job offer in hand from the corporate side of the retailing world. If asked earlier in her college career, she would have said it was just the kind of job she wanted. As a senior, she politely declined.
"I realized I don't think I want to go into the corporate workforce. It’s just not who I am anymore,” Pease said.
While she respects those who choose that path, her college experience, including studying abroad in Italy, gave her new perspective and new passions. She has applied to the Peace Corps, wanting to help others and travel, with a plan to follow that with work in small business retail and eventually graduate school.
As she begins her next adventure, Pease says she has no doubt USC has prepared her well, academically and as a person.
"There will be challenges along the way, but you can take those on. Just keep your priorities straight," she said when asked for advice for those who will follow in her footsteps on the Columbia campus. "You don't have to go through your four years alone."