Student with cancer featured in YouTuber’s videos

Junior advocates for childhood cancer research by sharing her story


Kylie Conklin with Colleen Ballinger at her live show in 2018. (photo courtesy of Conklin)

Morgan Fry

When Kylie Conklin ‘22 was 11 years old, she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer that affects the nervous system. Since then, Conklin has undergone various surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments. Through it all, Conklin chooses a positive mindset and seeks to help others by sharing her story, she said. 

“When I’m going through treatment, I always like to look to the future,” Conklin said. “I like to plan things to look forward to. For example, once COVID-19 is over, I’m hoping to take a trip to London.”

In addition to planning fun experiences and events, Conklin values the support of her family and friends. 

“I always try to be there for her,” friend Madyln Pugliese ‘22 said. “She is one of my best friends who I love and always want to help.”

One friend Conklin has made through her journey is YouTube personality Colleen Ballinger, who is known for her character Miranda Sings. In 2018, Conklin met Ballinger at one of her live shows. Since then, Conklin has stayed in contact with Ballinger who has continued to support her. 

“The first time I was cancer free, I was super excited and got to tell Colleen, and she was happy for me and congratulated me on her Instagram story,” Conklin said. 

Then in 2019, Ballinger asked Conklin to be featured in her annual video promoting her childhood cancer fundraiser. The YouTube video, titled “Tired of Saying Goodbye”, circulated over 615,000 views and raised nearly $150,000 for childhood cancer research. 

“I definitely had a proud mom moment watching the video,” Conklin’s mother, Michelle Punjak, said. “I know Kylie likes to keep a little bit of her life private, so it was really nice to see her open up like that and share with other people.” 

In the video, Conklin described her journey with cancer, and how she is now fighting neuroblastoma for a fourth time. She also refuted misconceptions people have about cancer to help educate and spread awareness.  

“I think people just assume that cancer is like chemotherapy and losing your hair and staying in the hospital, but there’s so much more that comes with it,” Conklin said. “It’s just crazy, I have to get my blood drawn twice a week, and the first time I got treatment I had to take five pills a day.”

The video generated an overwhelmingly positive response from LT students, Conklin said. People she had never spoken to before came up to her in the halls to praise her vulnerability in the video, and many messaged her on social media. 

“It was definitely a cool experience to have people come up to me like that,” Conklin said. “It kind of made me feel famous.”

In Ballinger’s livestream video for her 2020 cancer fundraiser, she mentioned Conklin again calling her “incredible,” when talking about kids who have inspired her. 

Whether it’s speaking in a YouTuber’s video for thousands of people to see or using her own social media to share her story, Conklin wants to help other kids who have experienced cancer, she said. One of her favorite events is the annual Camp Kids Are Kids Chicago summer camp, where she is able to meet other kids who have gone through cancer. 

“I think Kylie wants to put her face to cancer because she’s had it for so long and has had so many treatments and ailments with it,” Punjak said. “I know she wants to inspire kids who have gone through or are going through similar situations as her.” 

In addition, Conklin wants everyone to view her as an example that even when things aren’t the best in life, people are not alone in their struggles and can always look on the positive side of things, she said. 

“The cards Kylie has been dealt are completely unfair, but at the same time, people are drawn to her for a reason,” Punjak said. 

People like Ballinger and “The Walking Dead” actress Samatha Morton, who checks up on Conklin via text, have noticed the voice Conklin has given herself, Punjak said. 

“To go through what she does day after day for six years now is incredible,” Punjak said. “I guess she really has that mindset in her that she can do anything, which at the end of the day is what continues to inspire people.”