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Woman’s legacy lives on after battle with colon cancer

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In 2021, News 8’s “All Indiana” introduced viewers to three survivors of colorectal cancer.

They included a young woman who showed it’s a disease that doesn’t care about age.

This year, her story is teaching you don’t have to survive cancer to beat it.

Family and friends describing Kierstyn Roberts say things like “a force to be reckoned with” and “she’d walk around just lighting up the place.”

Debra Roberts remembers when her daughter Kierstyn called home from college at Indiana University and said she was having severe chest pains and trouble breathing. In the beginning, doctors thought she was having gallstone problems. After that first visit, though, things got worse in a week. Debra asked Kierstyn to get to the emergency room.

She and her husband, William, drove down to Bloomington to see what was going on in-person. “That was the point when my life went upside down,” Debra said.

“Doctor came in and told Kierstyn that her life was going to change,” William Roberts said.

Kierstyn had Stage 4 colon cancer. Her family was devastated. “I just remember getting off the phone and I broke down like never before,” Kierstyn’s older sister Kyra said.

“I really didn’t know what to feel,” her younger brother Caleb said. “My sister has cancer? What’s next?”

At age 21, Kierstyn was in the fight of her life. Soon after that, she would meet a new friend named Andrea Bauer. As a fellow cancer survivor, Andrea also happened to be a part of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. “One of the things I admired about her, still do, is her faith,” Bauer said. “Her faith kept her going.”

Her faith, paired with a Bible verse, became a battle cry.

“Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not to thine own understanding and in all thy ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path.”

Proverbs 3:5

Her family never faltered when that path became too hard to handle, even when the toughest day came, Kierstyn’s last day.

Caleb says he’d spent every moment he could with her and without knowing it he said his final goodbye. “I said, ‘I love you, and we love you,’ and when I said ‘we love you’ I meant not just me but everyone she knows.”

He left her side for just a few moments. “I came back and she wasn’t breathing anymore,” Caleb said.

Kierstyn was gone just six days after her 23rd birthday.

Meanwhile, a teacher and friend from her days at Arsenal Tech High School was coming up with an idea.

“If you met (Kierstyn), you’d want her in your life somehow,” William Gadd said. “We really hit it off right off the bat. She was just an amazing student. Amazing smile. A positive attitude. A hard worker.”

Their bond grew to the point where Gadd became Kierstyn’s mentor. He even made it a point to send her a daily morning text during her time at IU. After Kierstyn died, he wanted her memory to stay alive. That’s when he came up with the Kierstyn J. Roberts Memorial Scholarship. The fund would go toward helping other students get off to a good start in college and with the Roberts family’s help.

The candidates have to show respect for authority in and out of the classroom, hold a 3.2 or better GPA, rank in the top 30 in their academic class, and have an interest in science, technology, engineering or math as Kierstyn did.

As the Roberts family carries on, its members hope this first appearance won’t be the last time people see them shedding light on Kierstyn’s legacy while raising awareness on the deadly form of cancer.

These were some of the last words Kierstyn expressed in her interview in March 2021: “Before I pass through this world, I at least want the word to be spread that it’s so important to take care of your health.”

As far as her proud parents are concerned, her mission has been accomplished.

“Well done,” Debra said. “You did your job. Well done.”

A new scholarship also will be created in Kierstyn’s honor from the Indiana University Department of Mathematics.