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Colorado teen beats cancer, now in the running for valedictorian

Posted at 8:06 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-12 11:10:14-04

HOLLY, Colo. — A Holly High School student who beat cancer her senior year of school is now in the running for valedictorian.

Kristen Teferriller walked into high school her freshman year determined to become valedictorian. Her drive pushed her past her painful fight against cancer, even when her future appeared murky.

In August of 2019, Tefertiller was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a blood cancer that can be fatal if not treated. She was 17 years old and a junior in high school.

“Honestly, I was very nervous and very scared,” Tefertiller said.

Tefertiller was admitted to Children’s Hospital in Aurora, which was four hours from her home.

“It was very difficult,” Tefertiller said. “There were times when you didn’t know if you were going to make it out of there.”

She did her schoolwork from the hospital bed. When she had questions, she emailed teachers or a nurse would drop in and help her.

Four months after Tefertiller's cancer diagnosis, she received a bone marrow transplant.

“She had to go through very intensive chemotherapy prior to her transplant, which makes you feel terrible,” said Dr. Robert Casey, a pediatrics physiologist at Children’s Hospital.

After her bone marrow transplant, she was nauseous daily, Tefertiller said.

“I was in a lot of pain. There was so much stomach pain that was going on. I was exhausted,” Tefertiller said.

Casey said a cancer diagnosis of this magnitude and treatment will take a toll on the patient physically and mentally and, at times, derail their goals and future.

“What is amazing about Kristen is that she didn’t allow it to derail her process,” Casey said.

Casey recalls telling Tefertiller to take it easy.

“It’s going to be very difficult for you to be valedictorian of your class given what you have to fight,” Casey said he told her.

Tefertiller’s response? “I said, 'Watch me.'”

Family, friends and community members came together for Tefertiller. They sent cards and text messages to help keep her spirit up and raised more than $50,000 to help the family cover medical expenses.

On Jan. 7, 2020, Tefertiller rang the hospital bell to signal she was cancer-free and returned to school her senior year in the midst of a pandemic.

“My immune system was very low. I had to be extra careful,” Tefertiller said. “I wore masks before they were cool.”

She eased into her schoolwork, doubling up on classes and tackling summer school.

“I worked my butt off,” Tefertiller said.

Last Friday, she wrapped up her last final. Anticipation is now building as she counts down to the days until she finds out if she will be the next valedictorian at Holly High School.

“Even if I don’t get it, at least I’ll know I’ve tried my hardest, and with everything I went through, I was still determined,” Tefertiller said.

Casey said she plans to attend Tefertiller’s graduation this weekend.

“I started crying when I found out he was going to come because he means that much to me,” Tefertiller said.

She even named a sheep after Casey and a registered nurse who helped her during her stay at the hospital.

“You can accomplish whatever you want to do," Terfertiller said. "You can follow your dreams. You can set a goal and accomplish it.”