Karolina Jasko just arrived from class. Her hair is polished, her fresh face is flawless, and her nails—all but one—are done perfectly. This former Miss Illinois 2018 is a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she is finishing her undergraduate degree in psychology and preparing for graduate school interviews to study family and marriage counseling. She’s soft spoken and modest—qualities that may not fit the typical beauty queen stereotype—but when you ask her what’s motivating her, Jasko has a lot to say.
While beauty queens always seem to come across as aesthetically perfect and confident, Jasko has a message to share with everyone: “We all have scars.” There is something else Jasko has recently allowed herself to open up about: her experience with cancer. After Jasko hung up her crown at the end of 2018, she began sharing her story as a survivor of melanoma.
“It was easier for me to talk about domestic violence while I was competing for Miss Illinois USA because I care for it and it interests me,” Jasko says. “But since cancer touched me so personally, I had a harder time talking about it. And it wasn’t until after the pageant and my title expired that I realized people actually want to hear about it.”
“We live in a world where everyone is so stressed and tense with work,” Jasko says. “And I think it is really important to take time and do something that you enjoy. No matter what it is, if it’s reading a book, going to the gym or hanging out with your dog, take an hour a day to fill your soul.”
“When I got my melanoma diagnosis and then all of those surgeries, it sounds bad to say, but something that affected me the most was the fact that my thumb nail was never going to grow back,” Jasko says. “Being 18 and in high school, I was about [to] go to prom and I remember caring so much about people noticing. I built up this narrative in my head that something was wrong with me. My thumb is not that noticeable. But to me, it was the only thing that I noticed. I tore [myself] down constantly, and I used to wear bandages even after my thumb healed.”