University of South Florida St. Petersburg



Cole Eicher. Photo by Shannon Livingston.

Cole Eicher has not only recovered and excelled as a student at USF, he is a national advocate for children with cancer. Photo by Shannon Livingston.

Brain cancer survivor graduates with honors and lasting memories

By Matthew Cimitile, University Communications and Marketing

As Cole Eicher prepares to graduate, he’s also celebrating another milestone: ten years of being cancer free. 

In 2014 at the age of 12, Eicher was diagnosed with brain cancer. After weeks of experiencing migraines, dizziness, nausea and bouts of double vision, a golf-ball sized tumor was discovered in the back of his brain.

He needed immediate surgery.

“When I was diagnosed, I didn’t know kids could get cancer,” Eicher said. “There was a lot of unknowns going through my head. Would I be able to even make it to high school, let alone college?”

Now a decade later, Eicher has not only recovered, he is a national advocate for children with cancer, launching an effort that today is the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) official childhood cancer initiative.

"We are so proud of Cole and everything he has accomplished," said Christian Hardigree, regional chancellor of USF St. Petersburg. "Not only has he overcome so much, he now serves as an inspiration to others. This is just the start for him, and his passion and enthusiasm will serve him well throughout his life."

Days after Eicher’s diagnosis, a brain surgery operation was conducted successfully. It was followed by 30 rounds of radiation, then four months of chemotherapy and countless hours of physical therapy to regain motor skills from walking to putting on clothes. By October of that year, he was cancer free. 

“I was blessed that there was a treatment option for me, because that isn’t always the case, especially with pediatric cancer,” Eicher said.

Cardboard boat

Eicher captained the winning vessel at the cardboard boat race in 2021, one of USF St. Petersburg's biggest campus traditions.

He views the last 10 years as a gift, one where he was given time to learn how to drive a car, make new friends and even win USF St. Petersburg’s cardboard boat race during homecoming week of 2021. He captained the winning vessel, a Mr. Worldwide-themed boat in honor of the rapper Pitbull.

“And now I have the gift of walking at commencement,” said Eicher, who will be graduating magna cum laude with a Marketing degree from USF.

He has taken full advantage of this time by helping other kids diagnosed with cancer. 

After his recovery, Eicher got involved in Relay for Life. This American Cancer Society (ACS) initiative celebrates survivors and remembers those lost to the disease by organizing relay teams that gather for community events to walk, raise awareness and money, and provide support to those fighting cancer.  Eicher was so touched by the people he met and the support he received at these gatherings that he set a goal of forming a team.

That goal became Gold Together for Childhood Cancer, a non-profit he started in high school. He hoped through this organization to provide a platform that would raise awareness for childhood cancer and funds for research and support programs, while providing communities a vehicle to support kids fighting cancer by forming their own Gold Together teams for Relay for Life. It proved so successful that in 2018, it became the official childhood cancer initiative for ACS.

What started as one team in St. Petersburg is now in nearly 150 communities and has raised more than $11 million. 

“It is for me a story of hope and not giving up,” Eicher said. 

This story – which Cole has shared many times over the years – inspired then-USF President Judy Genshaft on one such occasion to offer Eicher a full scholarship to come to USF. He chose the St. Petersburg campus for its welcoming atmosphere, community feel and small class sizes. 

He became a marketing major because of his love connecting with people, being a brand ambassador and building relationships. These were the same reasons he became a peer coach on campus, providing guidance and helping acclimate students into college life. During his time, he helped nearly 150 students with mentoring and opportunities for leadership experiences, setting them up to succeed.

Eicher also assisted in creating a student club on campus called ACS with the Bulls. The club will be bringing a Relay for Life event to the USF Tampa campus in the spring of 2025.

It is these experiences and relationships that he cherishes the most during his time here.

“My brain cancer operation took place at John’s Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, right next to campus,” he said. “My journey truly feels full circle right now.”

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