Worth the wait
Coles College of Business student graduates following multiple treatments for rare blood disorder
KENNESAW, Ga. (May 25, 2016) — Dylan Martin wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to graduate from college, but his concern stemmed from something far more serious than how he was doing in his classes.
Martin, 25, was diagnosed seven years ago with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a type of cancer in which bone marrow fails to produce enough healthy blood cells. He since has had more hospital visits than he can count – some for months at a time – including receiving chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant.
“My parents didn’t tell me at the time, but doctors said I had a 10 percent chance of living,” Martin said. “I’m glad I didn’t know that, because I probably would’ve been more doubtful.”
Despite that grim prognosis, and having to take a two-year break from college for a myriad of treatments, Martin graduated from Kennesaw State University this month with a degree in information security and assurance. He hopes to work for a large company or government agency and use his knowledge to keep computer system data secure from unauthorized access.
“I want to be an example that, even though sometimes we are faced with great obstacles, we can overcome them, beat them and go on to accomplish great things,” Martin said. “I want to continue with my life and goals, be successful and do what I can to help my family be happy and healthy, and help others who are going through similar experiences.”
Remarkably, three other members of Martin’s immediate family also have MDS. After his mother, Leigh Ann, was diagnosed with the rare blood disorder, Dylan and his younger brother Patrick both learned they had it. Then, about two-and-a-half years ago, Dylan’s maternal grandmother, Mary, was diagnosed with MDS.
“My mom would always talk with her doctors, and they said she never would have to worry about me or my brother having it – but we both got it,” Martin said. “Every doctor we’ve ever been to said they had never heard of a family of four, or even a mother and sons, having it.”
Although he was diagnosed with MDS in 2009 while he was in high school, Martin didn’t become acutely ill until 2013 when he was in the midst of spring semester at Kennesaw State. Doctor and hospital visits replaced classes and homework, and he didn’t return to KSU until two years later.
“I had to put my life on hold to take care of this,” Martin said. “It was hard, but I just tried to keep positive thoughts. I reminded myself that I thought it was going to be OK and it would be over at some point and I would be able to return to school and finish.”
Another setback came when Martin developed graft-versus-host disease as a reaction to his bone marrow transplant, which affected his eyes, mouth, skin, stomach, and muscles. The disease sapped his strength, and he became too weak to walk or dress himself. Martin also developed kidney problems and lung infections, resulting in more treatments.
Martin gradually regained his strength, and doctors allowed him to resume classes at Kennesaw State in the spring of 2015. He carried a full load of courses, taking as many as possible online in order to limit his contact with other people and reduce his risk of becoming sick or developing an infection.
Martin made the dean’s list in his first semester back at Kennesaw State, and continued to earn dean’s list or president’s list honors each semester until he completed his degree. His mother and fellow MDS survivor was in attendance when he crossed the stage at the KSU Convocation Center on graduation day.
“I like to tell people about my mother because, without her encouragement and being by my side practically 24/7 while I went through everything, I don’t know if I would have had the strength to be here today,” Martin said. “My mother’s survival showed me that I could do it myself.”
Martin has regular check-ups, but his cancer is in remission and “the doctor’s visits definitely have gotten more spaced out,” he said. He looks forward to the next step in his life now that he has completed his long, interrupted journey to finishing college.
“It finally happened,” he said of his graduation. “I’m just very happy and proud of myself.”
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.