Blake Wood
Publish Date

LaNise Kirk, 46, has learned a lot during her battle with Angiosarcoma, a rare cancer that forms in the lining of blood vessels and lymph vessels. As the 2023 University of Illinois Springfield student commencement speaker, she will share some of the inspiring life lessons she has learned throughout her journey.

Kirk was first diagnosed with cancer in 2018. After treatment, her cancer went into remission. However, in August 2022 she got the phone call she had feared – her cancer had returned. Not only had her cancer returned, she had entered stage four.

“As of now, there’s no cure for it, but they’re hoping for manageability,” she said.

She learned her cancer had returned during the final semester of earning her undergraduate degree. However, she was determined to earn her master’s degree in human development counseling at UIS.

“I can’t tell you what this place has meant to me,” she said. “It’s much more than just a university. It is a community. It is a family.”

Kirk calls her professors “amazing,” praising them for understanding her limitations and allowing her to be flexible in the way she completed her coursework. She adds that they were patient, attentive and caring.

“I think her story speaks to what UIS represents, which is a community of people who care about each other, who know each other,” said Tiffany Nielson, an associate professor of human development counseling who taught Kirk at UIS.

Kirk also thanks her fellow students in the human development counseling program for helping her succeed through graduation. They started a meal train for her, her husband and three children. They also made sure she had plenty of snacks while going through immuno and chemotherapy.

During her UIS Commencement speech, Kirk will talk about the power of hope, love and relationships. She hopes her fellow graduates will use the inspiration to do great things in life.

“What I hope they take from it is – the future is exactly what they make it,” she said. “What they put into life is definitely what they can get out of it.”

As Kirk’s battle with cancer continues, she’s part of a promising experimental cancer treatment program taking place at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. It gives her hope.

“You never really know what you’re capable of until life hands you something that feels unbearable and then in those moments that you may feel despair, you may actually find the greatest strength. Every day is worth the chance.”

You can hear Kirk’s speech during the 2 p.m. UIS Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 13 at the BOS Center in downtown Springfield.