UI student beats cancer, enjoys remission as a Hawkeye

First-year student Isabelle Ireland spent her entire junior year of high school battling a rare form of ovarian cancer. Now, she is in remission and enjoying her time as a Hawkeye.


Matt Sindt

Isabelle Ireland does homework by the Old Capitol steps Sept. 29, 2022.

Isabelle Foland, News Reporter

After eight months of cancer treatment at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, Isabelle Ireland returned to Iowa City — this time as a student in remission.

Days before her junior year of high school began in August 2020, Isabelle was diagnosed with small cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type. This form of cancer is very rare and must be treated quickly and aggressively.

Isabelle said she first noticed something was off in July 2020 when she went into surgery to have a painful bunion removed from her foot.

“After surgery, I just did not bounce back,” Isabelle said. “I was super lethargic, I would get sick whenever I ate, and just like things that wouldn’t be related to having surgery. Just very strange.”

Isabelle said she returned to the hospital for testing, which is when doctors discovered her calcium levels were extremely high. She was then admitted to the emergency room, and after further tests, she received her cancer diagnosis.

The treatment plan was aggressive and only had a small chance of being effective. After her tumor was surgically removed, Isabelle received treatment at the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital from September 2020 until May 2021.

In total, Isabelle received six rounds of six-drug chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, and 25 rounds of radiation.

Isabelle’s mother Karol Ireland said Isabelle never complained no matter what she went through.

“Her demeanor, especially when she was at the hospital, was almost just, ‘Okay, just get it over with, just do it,’” Karol said. “… [The doctors] said she was probably one of the most — and granted she was older than a lot of those kids out there — but one of the most positive patients that they’ve ever had.”

Isabelle credits her mother, her community, and her school for helping her persevere through the difficult time. Isabelle grew up in Sigourney, Iowa, a small town about one hour away from Iowa City.

Shannon Webb, Isabelle’s high school principal at Sigourney Junior/Senior High School, said Isabelle’s teachers granted her leniency on assignment deadlines while she was in the hospital.

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Isabelle felt determined to get the credits necessary to graduate, and she worked on schoolwork even when she was very sick, Webb said.

Webb said the community held several fundraising events for Isabelle and her family, including a silent auction and a bags tournament.

“I can remember one day when she finally came home from her [treatment], the fire trucks led her through town and the whole school went over to her yard, and we sang and everything else to her and had the band come,” Webb said. “We did whatever we could to make her feel good.”

Isabelle said her proximity to the UI while growing up made her decision to become a Hawkeye an obvious one. She said the UI was the only college she toured and applied to.

“I have pictures of me like 6 years old in the Hawkeye cheerleading outfit,” Isabelle said. “So, it just was never a doubt in my mind that I want to go here.”

Isabelle is majoring in communications. She is involved in the Salt Co. church group and has an office job at the Carver College of Medicine for the Office of Student Affairs and Curriculum.

The thing Isabelle enjoys most about being in college, she said, is the change of pace from living in a small town.

“It’s nice to be in a place where something’s always going on, and if one thing doesn’t work out, I can always join something else,” Isabelle said. “There’s just so much to learn here and so much to experience, and it never ends.”

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