By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

A chance meeting changed Regan Ochs' plans.

Ochs, a Fort Hays State University junior, is majoring in organizational leadership.

Growing up in Hoxie, she planned to attend Kansas State University, until her dad, Shane Ochs, suggested she check out FHSU.

"Dad just wanted me to keep my options open," Ochs said.

She went the day before scholarship applications were due.

"I had a conversation with Christie Brungardt, a professor in our department," she said. "I just connected with her right away. I thought 'I am not going to have this kind of connection at K-State.' "

She changed her mind, and enrolled at FHSU as a leadership studies major.

In class the next spring, Brungardt "remembered my name, and who I was, and that I was from Hoxie. I just think that's incredible, the connections that you make here in Fort Hays."

However, life hasn't been without problems.

Diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer during finals week of her freshman year, Ochs credits Dr. Donald Tillman with catching it early after she noticed a change in a mole.

She had been fine until a second diagnosis in March.

"I could have it much worse. I have to go get a few surgeries, biopsies done."

Because of the recurring cancer, she went to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for treatment.

Though she's never been a deliberate sunworshipper, she's become a strong advocate of using sunscreen, she said.

Besides her dad, her support system includes her mother, Tracy Huxoll, grandma Deb Ochs, two brothers and a sister.

"I'm really blessed by the people around me. ... You can tell you're from northwest Kansas and a small town," Ochs said. "So many people care."

Melanoma doesn't slow her down.

She's assistant director of Up 'til Dawn, an organization that raises money for St. Jude Children's Hospital, a member of VIP Ambassadors, Leadership Studies Association, Mortar Board, Omicron Delta Kappa, and a Big Sister.

Ochs also serves as the student marketing coordinator for leadership studies.

"I love Fort Hays and leadership studies. I can't speak highly enough of them," she said. "I have a number of mentors that have really challenged me and helped me to grow."