Young nursing student battling ovarian cancer inspires others

December 18 2007

Jessica Coats had just completed her sophomore year in the nursing program at Indiana State University when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in July 2007.

The 23-year-old Coats began chemotherapy treatments in August, at the same time classes started, but she was determined to carry on with her studies. One of the first people she called upon receiving the news was one of her professors, Carolyn Burns.

“When I told Dr. Burns about the cancer, she said, ‘What can I do to help you'’” Coats said. “And from that moment on, Dr. Burns has played a major part in my recovery process.”

Burns, assistant professor of nursing, had already researched the best cancer doctors in the state of Indiana, because she had recently gone through her own battle with breast cancer.

“The two of us pass inspiration back and forth,” Burns said. “Jessica always has a positive attitude and a smile on her face.”

A 2007 nursing graduate, Dan Lucky, heard about Coats and also was inspired by her story. He donated a laptop to her so she could take online courses and work on her schoolwork at doctors’ appointments.

“It helped keep me motivated during the really difficult times with the chemotherapy, knowing that others were pulling for me,” Coats said

Her hometown community of Veedersburg held a co-ed softball tournament benefit to help her raise money to pay medical bills; and when her hair started falling out from the treatments, Coats said her roommates and fellow students, her mom and Burns had a hair-cutting party for her.

“There were two stylists and about 15 to 20 people at the party,” Coats said. “Most of the people at the party cut their hair short. My grandma shaved her head!

“The support of the ISU faculty and staff, students, and my family has made it possible for me to remain successful in school while going through the extensive medical treatments.”

Coats said having a medical background has its pros and cons when fighting cancer.

“Knowing the procedures and analyzing everything the nurses do can make nurses the worst patients,” Coats said. “On the other hand, the medical background is nice when explaining the medical terminology to my family.”

Recently, Jessica was a guest speaker at one of Burns’ classes.

“The students found her story heartbreaking, but inspiring,” Burns said. “She takes it one day at a time and makes each day count. She is a survivor and will make a wonderful nurse.”

Now in remission and waiting for her hair to grow back, Coats is looking forward to the rest of her junior year, and even feels that she’s been given a sense of direction in her studies.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to specialize in at first, but now I am considering oncology because I have been there and can offer hope to the hopeless,” Coats said.


Photo: Download a high-resolution photo here:Jessica Coats

Contact: Carolyn Burns, assistant professor of nursing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3480 or

Writer: Claudine Gaston, media relations intern, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or

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Story Highlights

Jessica Coats had just completed her sophomore year in the nursing program at ISU when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in July 2007. The 23-year-old has been determined to carry on with her studies, and in the process, has inspired others.

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