Community Meet Jillian Williams-Coffee: Cancer Fighters Perseverance Award recipient
Jillian Perseverance Award recipient

Meet Jillian Williams-Coffee: Cancer Fighters Perseverance Award recipient

Meet Jillian Williams-Coffee. She's a Texas native. A college graduate. A doting newlywed. A proud dog momma. A woman of faith. A loving daughter, sister and best friend. A world-class athlete and gold medalist. An inspiring nonprofit founder. And a 24-year-old cancer survivor.

She's one of our Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) 2021 Cancer Fighters Perseverance Award recipients. This is her story.

Jillian’s memories of growing up were of a nearly picture-perfect childhood. The daughter of a business owner and a state judge, Jillian recalls showing livestock at competitions and playing sports, including volleyball, throughout high school. In 2015, Jillian began playing volleyball at the college level, as a freshman at Texas Lutheran University. During her fall semester, she started experiencing severe knee pain but delayed visiting a doctor until her volleyball season was over. In December 2015, her care team found a bone fracture and bone cyst in her distal femur. At the time, the diagnosis was a non-ossifying fibroma, a benign bone tumor. 

However, just two months later, during the week of her 19th birthday, Jillian was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a form of bone cancer. The college athlete elected to have a rotationplasty, a specific type of leg amputation procedure that would give her greater function and a better chance at continuing to pursue the activities she loves. In total, she underwent 29 rounds of chemotherapy at University Hospital - University Health in San Antonio, as well as rotationplasty surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center. 

Jillian Williams-Coffee and family

Jillian credits her faith for carrying her through the difficult diagnosis. Reflecting on how she felt in February 2016, Jillian told CTCA, “God was in total control of what was going to happen next.” 

She also has people in her life who stayed by her side through 2016 and beyond. Her two childhood best friends, Kaitlyn and Dallas, were constant fixtures at her home. Her brother, Trent, who was training as a merchant mariner at the time of her diagnosis, is Jillian’s “biggest fan,” according to the gold medalist. In fact, Jillian says, Trent was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean en route to Dubai but found a way to be on the phone for the biopsy results. 

Jillian also credits the care teams at both hospitals for gracefully guiding her treatment plan and staying personally committed to her progress, including Aaron Sugalski, DO and Valerae O. Lewis, MD

Less than a year after the amputation, Jillian was ready to hit the court as a competitive athlete again—this time as a sitting volleyball player. She continued to train in 2017, committed to learning and becoming the best in the sport. In 2018, Jillian made the roster for the U.S. women’s sitting volleyball team, competing around the world. Most recently, Jillian was part of the 2020 team that took home the gold in Tokyo.

Jillian Williams-Coffee and care team

In addition to her triumphant return to the volleyball court, Jillian founded a nonprofit inspired by her personal experience. The Live n Leap Foundation aims to help other young adults (between ages of 18 and 29) diagnosed with cancer. Since 2019, she’s granted 20 “leaps” (which stands for “live every adventure possible”) across the nation—and Jillian says she’s just getting started. Every recipient is awarded $5,000 to fulfill requests ranging from once-in-a-lifetime trips to new technology. 

CTCA® is honored to name Jillian Williams-Coffee as one of our 2021 Cancer Fighters Perseverance Award recipients. 


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