Nashville, Tenn. When high school student Lincoln Rogers was stricken with kidney cancer, he didn't ask the Make-A-Wish Foundation for a trip to Walt Disney World or a chance to meet his favorite TV star.
He asked for an education.
The foundation made it happen, and now Rogers is a 19-year-old sophomore and a big man on campus at Lipscomb University, where a walk through the student center is a blur of hugs and handshakes and where everybody seems to recognize his smile, if not his hair.
"When I first started to get my hair back, nobody knew who I was because I'd been bald for two years," joked Rogers, who has been cancer-free since August.
Since 1980, the Make-A-Wish Foundation has granted 100,000 wishes for youngsters with life-threatening illnesses. But Rogers is the only one to receive a "college wish," said foundation spokesman Jim Maggio. Lipscomb is helping to cover Rogers' expenses.
"It speaks to what Lipscomb University was willing to do," Maggio said. "I don't think many schools would be quite as generous."
At Lipscomb, a 2,600-student school affiliated with the Churches of Christ, Rogers has balanced chemotherapy, chorus and chemistry while inspiring fellow students with his faith.
"I never could be so strong," said sophomore Karla Payne.
Those who know him say Rogers never lost faith. Not when he collapsed in 2000 after playing table tennis at a Christian youth group gathering. Not when the excruciating pain persisted a month after a surgeon removed his appendix. Not when doctors diagnosed him with cancer.
"He's been so courageous through all this," said his mother, Kristy Rogers. "I don't know how or why he's been so faithful to the Lord when at times I felt like the Lord has turned his back."
Actually, she and her husband, Wade, raised their son that way. From the time he was in diapers in Winchester, south of Nashville, Rogers spent every Sunday and Wednesday night at the Church of Christ. At 12, he was baptized.
"I always believed in God and I loved going to church and seeing the things he told us to do," Rogers said. "But when it came down to where I had to completely rely on him, that never happened until I got sick."
Rogers started chemotherapy in February 2001, his senior year at Franklin County High. While his classmates were ordering their caps and gowns, he lost his hair.
"There were days when I couldn't hold a pencil well, couldn't grab on to things," he said. "I couldn't play the piano for six or seven months."
Lipscomb was always his first pick, but his parents -- an electrician and a nurse -- urged him to consider less expensive choices, especially with medical bills adding up.
They were not sure they could afford the $17,000 a year for tuition, room and board at Lipscomb, even with the scholarships the straight-A student had received.
Answer to a prayer
When friends suggested Make-A-Wish, Rogers wrote on his application: "I want to go to Lipscomb."
What a farfetched idea, his mother thought -- until the foundation came through. "That was the most unreal answer to prayers," she said.
Ann L. Alexander, then executive director of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Middle Tennessee, was impressed by Rogers' sense of the big picture.
Usually, she said, children with cancer "want to meet someone, go somewhere or do something."
"To have someone like this who is so focused, it's unbelievable," she said.
In the fall of 2001, Rogers finished his chemotherapy and enrolled at Lipscomb. He won a seat on the student senate, resumed piano lessons, joined the choir and excelled in class. "I loved every minute of it," he recalled.
But before the semester ended, the pain returned. The cancer was back -- and this time, the chemotherapy and radiation were "10 times worse," he said.
Friends from Lipscomb decorated his room at Vanderbilt University Medical Center with cards, banners and streamers. While still undergoing chemotherapy, he joined a campus organization that helps freshmen adapt to college life.
"There were times when my platelet count was zero, so I'd go and get a transfusion and come back to do orientation the next day," he said.
Rogers is now back in class with "a fresh batch of hair."
"To the rest of us who are healthy, it makes us stop and really think about what he's trying to do with his life," said Sarah Keith Gamble, associate dean of campus life.
For his part, Rogers said, "We don't know how much we can do until we actually try it."
He added: "I just have everything you could possibly want. I just think I've been blessed so much."