Charming. Talented. Motivated. A big dreamer with the ability to make those dreams come true. Cancer survivor. Xavier Kirkland is an 11-year survivor of Acute Lymphatic Leukemia (ALL), but he’s not letting anything stand in his way of becoming an acclaimed chef.
“I think of different plating options all the time,” laughs Xavier. “When I was diagnosed with ALL at age nine, I had no idea where my life would go or if I would even live to be 20 years old. Now I have a career plan and a goal of owning the best restaurant in Richmond someday.”
Xavier will graduate from the J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College’s Culinary Arts program in May 2021 and says that wouldn’t have been possible without the Launch Project program, one of the survivorship programs ASK provides for young adults.
“ASK’s Launch Project coordinator, Michelle Johnson, contacted me and asked if I’d like to go to J. Sarg to get my degree through the PAVE Program for Adults in Vocational Education. I had to think about it at first, but then I realized that I love to cook and the Culinary Arts program would be a perfect fit for me.”
“We work as a team at the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU's Survivorship Clinic, so there is a pediatric oncologist, psychologist, social worker, educational consultant, nurse practitioner and myself assigned to each survivor. Together, we support the survivor in determining educational goals, career strategies, job searches, and intervention when needed to allow for special accommodations. We’re seeing huge successes for our kids.”
ASK keeps in touch with all patients well past the end of their treatment specifically to provide not only medical follow-up but social, educational and career services into young adulthood. “We host young adult retreats and regular activities to foster comradery,” continues Michelle. “It’s a great way for our young adult survivors to connect with people who truly understand their unique needs into adulthood.”
Xavier is just one of the many Launch Project success stories. He’s currently going to school full-time and has an internship as a line chef at the Boathouse Restaurant in Rocket’s Landing. ASK helped him purchase his chef uniform and knives to begin his internship, but Xavier has supplied the drive and determination necessary to succeed.
These days, Xavier serves up good food, and these words of wisdom: “I want them to know that they will feel like giving up, but they should never give up. I felt like an outcast because none of my friends could understand what I was going through when I was on chemo, but you’re not an outcast. Do what you want to do. Be who you want to be. I had to let that notion sink in, but then I realized that I can do whatever I set my mind to do. So can you.”