Devastated doesn’t begin to describe how Kristen Webb felt when she lost her older sister to breast cancer four years ago.
Her sibling was just 28, no one in the family had ever been diagnosed with the disease, and Webb was in the midst of her first year studying culinary arts at Santa Barbara City College.
Despite Webb’s distressed emotional state, the Thousand Oaks native set her mind on soldiering forward to earn a degree — a goal her late sister, Victoria, was just one semester shy of achieving.
Then, in 2011, Webb found a lump.
She, too, was diagnosed with breast cancer, beginning a journey that included a double mastectomy, five months of chemotherapy, and several reconstructive surgeries.
In a bizarre turn, Webb’s oldest sister (and only other sibling) was also diagnosed with the disease in 2013.
As she retold her story on a recent morning, Webb, now 30, appeared as optimistic as any other student on the cusp of graduation, planning for a future not always guaranteed.
It’s because of those hard-fought struggles that Webb will represent the SBCC student body Friday, speaking at the 65th annual commencement ceremony at 5 p.m. at La Playa Stadium, 721 Cliff Dr.
“In the beginning, it was surreal,” Webb said, recalling her sister’s death and her own battle with cancer. “But I really wanted to finish school. I just tried to stay focused. I was bald and sick, but I was really determined to get through it.”
Webb’s parents, sister and other supporters will be there to cheer her on, enjoying an honor earned because a public-speaking teacher nominated Webb for telling a courageous story most might find difficult to dredge up.
Webb’s fight with cancer directly explains how she ended up in a public-speaking course, a requirement for the associate’s degree in communication studies she decided to pursue after volunteering with the Healthy Women’s Program at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura.
She couldn’t cover medical bills, so the hospital’s foundation helped her with payments while Webb lent her face and voice to the nonprofit’s cause.
Now well and with a full head of wavy brown hair, Webb plans to go into charity fundraising, continuing this fall at Sonoma State University.
Webb credited remarkable support at home and school for bolstering her resolve.
“I’ve had people tell me that listening to my story has helped them get a mammogram,” Webb said. “If I can help one person, it’s worth it.
“Young people in general don’t take health seriously. I want to take all this bad stuff that’s happened in my life and turn it into some good.”
The culinary arts degree she earned last year could come in handy some day.
The way Webb sees it, charity work will be more rewarding and help spread her story to even more people.