Area native uses pageant as 'distraction' from cancer
People react to a diagnosis of cancer in varying ways. For Atwood-Hammond High School and University of Illinois graduate Kristina Anderson, it prompted her to enter the Miss Arizona USA pageant, which is scheduled for Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Mesa, Ariz.
"It would definitely be nice to win, but that's not the primary focus. It's mostly for the distraction," said Anderson, 25, who earned her community health/planning and administration degree from the UI in 2010.
She called her late-July diagnosis with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer as "life-changing," but decided a project like Miss Arizona would "help me to continue my life, and to shift the burden to that. To help get the negativity out of my life."
The former resident of Garrett — just outside of Atwood — is not a stranger to being in the public eye. She was Miss Piatt County in 2006, and an Illini cheerleader. Anderson is now living in Scottsdale, Ariz., as she pursues a master's in business administration at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.
Now finishing up her fourth round of chemotherapy, she realizes side effects of the treatment may not help her chances in the upcoming Arizona pageant.
"Losing eyebrows and eyelashes is not good for a beauty pageant, but I'm still looking forward and going on," she said. With that in mind, she will likely don false eyelashes and need to draw in her eyebrows, something she said "will be new to me."
Family friend Terra Patient, herself a 2001 Atwood-Hammond graduate, is not surprised at Anderson's outlook.
"Even as a youngster, she was very highly motivated and driven. People can really appreciate where she came from and where she's going," said Patient, who is helping organize a fundraiser auction to help Anderson with medical expenses.
She also started a Facebook page, Prayers for Kristina Anderson, which already has over 3,700 members.
Patient is also proud of the Atwood-Hammond community, which will see its high school close at the end of this school year.
"This is proof positive that we don't have to be the big cheese, don't have to have a high school, to be there for each other," she added.
Anderson, the 2006 Atwood-Hammond salutatorian and homecoming queen, hopes her struggle will inspire others and increase awareness on women's health issues.
"You need to definitely listen to your body and get a checkup," she said, noting her diagnosis came out of a routine exam.
"You never know what your body is telling you. Also, there's no room for negativity, so have a good outlook. Think of it is an experience that can shape you for the better, not something that will bring you down."