This Making the Rounds features Dr. Gerhard Hildebrandt, division chief of hematology and blood and marrow transplantation at the UK Markey Cancer Center.

Meet Dr. Gerhard Hildebrandt, hematologist: ‘We’re here to help’

Making the RoundsIn this week’s edition of Making the Rounds, we’re joined by Dr. Gerhard Hildebrandt, division chief of hematology and blood and marrow transplantation at the UK Markey Cancer Center. Dr. Hildebrandt moved to the United States in 2009 after earning his medical degree in Germany.

What kinds of cancer do you treat?

We treat cancers of the blood and lymph system. We treat leukemia, we treat lymphoma, we treat multiple myeoma. We do treat benign disorders of the blood, like clotting disorders and bleeding disorders, but my special focus is in malignant hematology, which is really cancer of the blood and lymph system, and also bone marrow transplantation.

What do you most enjoy about your specialty?

I think that the chance to offer something, which, in a horrific moment in a patient’s life, can bring light – it’s just very satisfying. The other thing is, I do not fix and disconnect with the patients. I think in our field there are long-lasting relationships with the patients, and this is a thing which makes it unique and very exciting for me.

What do you want potential patients to know about you?

What I want them to know is that not only me, but our entire team really, really cares for them. And that we really spend the time they need. There’s no rush. My favorite slogan is always, “There’s no rushing medicine.” See, we do not rush patients in and out – that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to help.

How would your friends and family describe you?

Ambitious, hardworking – maybe overly hardworking. But on the other side I’m very childish. You know, fun-loving.

Describe your ideal weekend.

I’d spend it with my kids. I usually take my son for swimming, and we usually have a movie night on one of those days where we watch a movie with the kids and try to spend some time with them.

Where is your favorite place you’ve traveled?

I think it’s Botswana. I did two trips to Botswana. I went on a cruise, and then I slept in the wild with no cellphone, no guns, no weapons. It was very interesting to sleep there and hear the animals close by with no fences.

What do you enjoy about living in Lexington?

It’s a very livable town. Very nice, very friendly. I like downtown. I think there are quite a few good restaurants and places to get a drink once and a while. It’s very green. Where I live I can bike through the backstreets, so that’s good.


Take a look at our video interview with Dr. Hildebrandt below. He speaks about what makes working Markey so unique.


Next steps:

Some patients who receive brain tumor radiation develop radiation necrosis, causing debilitating effects. But a new clinical trial could change that.

UK and Norton partner in first-ever clinical trial for radiation necrosis

Radiation saves countless lives, but in rare cases, it causes a debilitating complication. Around 3 to 5 percent of patients who receive radiation for brain tumors, or arteriovenous malformations (AVM), develop radiation necrosis.

Radiation necrosis causes headaches, nausea and vomiting, cognitive problems, and neural dysfunction. Although a variety of medications has been used to manage symptoms, there is no approved cure. But a joint clinical trial at Norton Brownsboro Hospital in Louisville and UK HealthCare could change that.

The first trial of its kind that treats the brain directly

Led by Dr. Shervin Dashti and Dr. Tom Yao from the Norton Neuroscience Institute and Dr. Justin Fraser at UK HealthCare, the trial is the first in the world to deliver a dose of a cancer drug directly to the brain. This allows a larger amount of the drug to reach the brain, making treatment more effective.

Dashti has seen the effects of radiation necrosis on patients who have already experienced the trauma of brain cancer or AVM. In addition to the symptoms caused by the condition itself, patients suffer from side effects of steroids used to manage it: insomnia, mood changes and weight gain.

“There was nothing that worked for treating it, and people were devastated,” he said. “What we’re doing now is something completely different, and I think it has a chance to really change the way we treat this.”

More than three years ago, Dashti developed this treatment when two young patients were in desperate need. Only 12 and 13, both girls had developed radiation necrosis and were experiencing severe side effects from steroids. They had disabling headaches, gained 50 to 60 pounds each, missed significant amounts of school or withdrew entirely. One patient experienced focal seizures in her arm and leg; the other patient was hospitalized for fluid overload.

With no other treatment available, Dashti and Yao spoke to the first patient and her family about trying a low dose of Avastin directly to the brain. They agreed, and within 12 hours of the procedure, her headaches were gone. Brain scans over several months showed continuous improvement, her arm and leg had strengthened so she could walk without help, and she returned to school.

Jade Cain, now 16, was the second patient. She was 11 when the AVM was diagnosed and 13 when she met Dashti. According to her mother, Desiree Fischer, 75 percent of her brain was swollen by that time, and she was so depressed she didn’t want to leave the house.

“We’d been doing three or four months of steroids, and she ended up on all other kinds of other medications, too, because she developed thrush. So that’s what led us to this procedure. She spent a week in the children’s hospital because she was in fluid overload. She couldn’t do any more steroids because that was going to kill her.”

Fortunately, the treatment worked just as well for Cain. Her headaches went away, she was off steroids within four weeks, and she returned to school.

She had a final angiogram of her brain in March 2016, and everything was normal.

“It the most amazing, complete response after one treatment, and the imaging response was unbelievable. It was a miraculous recovery for both of them,” Dashti said.

Partnering with UK HealthCare

The success of these two patients motivated Dashti to start a clinical trial. He asked Fraser, director of cerebrovascular surgery and surgical director of the comprehensive stroke center at UK’s Kentucky Neuroscience Institute, to join them.

“We’re in this position of facing an uncommon complication of a treatment that is becoming more commonly used, and we don’t have a great way to fix it,” Fraser said. “What’s special about our procedure is that patients get the drug once, directly to the brain, as opposed to a complete course of the drug that can cause serious side effects.”

The trial is supported by both institutions and has received expert project management support from the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science.

Showing gratitude and support

Cain’s family has raised more than $20,000 for the Children’s Hospital Foundation. At the decision of Cain and her mother, these funds are directed specifically to support research on radiation necrosis.

“From the steroid use, my child who weighed 105 pounds went up to 160 pounds in one month. Had this treatment already been approved, we could have omitted all that. She battled to get the weight off and to overcome poor body self-image,” Fischer said. “I wish it had been approved way before. And I hate that my child is the one who had to go through it, but I tell her, ‘You have no idea what you’ve done – you’ve paved the way so other people hopefully won’t have go through what you went through.’”

If you are interested in learning about participating in this study, please contact Elodie Elayi at elodie.elayi@uky.edu, or review the study information at ClinicalTrials.gov.


Next steps:

  • UK’s Center for Drug and Alcohol Research has recently made progress on a treatment for those with opioid use disorder. Learn more.
  • Clinical research helps develop the treatments and medications of the future. Learn how you can help.
Making the Rounds with Dr. Susanne Arnold

Meet oncologist Susanne Arnold, second-generation doctor and proud Kentuckian

Making the RoundsOur featured provider in this week’s Making the Rounds is Dr. Susanne Arnold, an oncologist at the UK Markey Cancer Center who treats patients with lung cancer and head and neck cancer.

Dr. Arnold is particularly interested in early therapies for cancer and leads several clinical trials at Markey.

How did you become interested in medicine?

My first memories of my life were going with my dad to the hospital because he was a doctor. And that’s how I first became interested in medicine. He was the director of the Center on Aging here for over 25 years and so I have great pride in being a second-generation doctor here at the University of Kentucky.

And even deeper than that is my love of Kentucky, because I’m an eighth-generation Kentuckian and my children are ninth-generation Kentuckians. So serving Kentucky in the little area that I can make a difference – which is in cancer care, where we have some of the biggest health disparities and highest mortality rates – is a real calling to me.

What is your patient care philosophy?

Cancer is really scary, and when you think about how you care for someone with cancer, you have to think about what their goals are first and foremost. I try to put the patient in the center and say, ‘What are your goals? How are we going to help you live your life with cancer and hopefully past the time that you have cancer?’

What characteristic do you most admire in other people?

In my patients, I admire courage because they have to face so many things and they face it so much more courageously than I feel like I would. In others, I admire those who are genuine and care about people.

If you could meet any person from history, who would it be?

I always have wanted to go back in time and see what the heck Stonehenge is really about. That seems really weird, but it’s such a wild thing. I’d love to know why it’s there. What the heck were they doing? I don’t know that I’d want to meet the Stonehenge caveman, but I would love to see that.

And I would love to meet J.R.R. Tolkien because I love his books.

How would your friends describe you?

Nerdy and that I work too hard. I hope people think of me as a kind person and that I’m generous.


Watch our video interview with Dr. Arnold, where she discusses what types of patients she sees at Markey.


Next steps:

  • Learn more about clinical trials at Markey, where our experts are advancing cancer care and giving patients access to the latest treatment options.
  • If you’ve been diagnosed with any form of head and neck cancer or lung cancer, our specialized treatment teams are here to help. Learn more about the leading-edge, personalized care we provide.

Markey joins forces with national cancer leaders to encourage HPV vaccinations

Uniting with each of the 69 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers, the UK Markey Cancer Center is once again urging young people in the U.S. to get a vaccination against the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

HPV vaccination rates are low, especially in Kentucky

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, incidence rates of HPV-associated cancers continue to rise, with approximately 39,000 new HPV-associated cancers now diagnosed each year in the U.S. Although HPV vaccination can prevent the majority of cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat) and other genital cancers, vaccination rates remain low across the U.S., with just 41.9 percent of girls and 28.1 percent of boys completing the recommended vaccine series.

In Kentucky, the rates are even lower, with just 36.2 percent of adolescent girls and 17.1 percent of adolescent boys having completed the series.

New guidelines from the CDC recommend that children aged 11 to 12 should receive two doses of the HPV vaccine at least six months apart. Adolescents and young adults older than age 15 should continue to complete the three-dose series.

“HPV vaccination rates in Kentucky are extremely low, especially among adolescent males,” said Dr. Mark Evers, director of Markey. “We fully support these new immunization guidelines and hope they encourage more parents to have their children vaccinated, which will significantly lower their risk of developing these largely preventable cancers.”

Improving HPV vaccination can save ‘thousands of lives’

Research shows there are a number of barriers to overcome to improve HPV vaccination rates, including a lack of strong recommendations from physicians and parents not understanding that this vaccine protects against several types of cancer.

In an effort to overcome these barriers, NCI-designated cancer centers have organized a continuing series of national summits to share new research, discuss best practices and identify collective action toward improving HPV vaccination rates. The original joint statement, published in January 2016, was the major recommendation from a summit hosted at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer in November 2015, which brought together experts from the NCI, CDC, American Cancer Society and more than half of the NCI-designated cancer centers, including Markey.

“We have been inspired by the White House Cancer Moonshot to work together in eliminating cancer,” said Electra Paskett, PhD, associate director of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) Cancer Control Research Program. “Improving HPV vaccination is an example of an evidence-based prevention strategy we can implement today to save thousands of lives in the future.”

The updated statement is the result of discussions from the most recent summit, hosted this summer by OSUCCC. Nearly 150 experts from across the country, including representatives from the Markey, gathered in Columbus to present research updates and plan future collaborative actions across NCI-designated cancer centers.


Next steps:

A new study by UK Markey Cancer Center shows that chloroquine – an anti-malarial drug – may be useful in treating patients with metastatic cancers.

New study shows anti-malarial drugs may be able to treat cancer

A new study by UK Markey Cancer Center researchers shows that chloroquine – a drug currently used to treat malaria – may be useful in treating patients with metastatic cancers.

Published in Cell Reports, the study showed that chloroquine triggered the secretion of Par-4 – a protein that kills cancer cells and can limit metastasis – in both mouse models and in cancer patients in a clinical trial.

In order for Par-4 to be effective in stopping cancer cell growth, it requires the help of a protein called p53. P53 directly induces another protein called Rab8b, which is responsible for transporting Par-4. Unfortunately in many types of cancer, the p53 protein is often mutated or has its pathways disturbed, allowing metastasis to continue.

The study found that when chloroquine is introduced, it’s able to induce p53- and Rab8b-dependent Par-4 secretion from normal cells to help stop cancer metastasis in p-53 deficient tumors.

The study was led by the lab of Vivek M. Rangnekar, the Alfred Cohen endowed chair in oncology research at the UK Markey Cancer Center and a professor in the UK Department of Radiation Medicine. UK Researchers Ravshan Burikhanov and Nikhil Hebbar in Rangnekar’s group were co-first authors in the study.

“Because p53 is often mutated in tumors, it makes the tumors resistant to treatment,” said Rangnekar, also the co-leader of the Cancer Cell Biology and Signaling research program and associate director at Markey. “However, this study shows that the relatively safe, FDA-approved drug chloroquine empowered normal cells – which express wild type p53 – to secrete Par-4 and stop metastasis in p53-deficient tumors.”

At the UK Markey Cancer Center, one clinical trial using chloroquine for Par-4 induction in a variety of cancer patients is ongoing. Researchers are now planning a second clinical trial that would involve giving a maintenance dose of chloroquine to patients who are in remission, with the hopes of preventing cancer relapse.

This research was funded with grants from the National Institutes of Health and the UK Markey Cancer Center/Center for Clinical and Translational Science. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, Kansas University Cancer Center and Osaka University in Japan collaborated with UK scientists in this study.


Next steps:

Cervical cancer is a leading cancers in Kentucky, but it is easily preventable. Through vaccines and screenings, you can take steps to reduce your risk.

Take action to prevent cervical cancer

Dr. Rachel Miller

Written by Dr. Rachel Miller, a gynecologic oncologist at the UK Markey Cancer Center.

At the beginning of the year, many women (and men) set resolutions around health and fitness, often focusing on weight loss. But one of the most important habits women can form revolves around regular health checks, particularly for preventable cancers.

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Unfortunately, Kentucky ranks in the top 10 in the country for cervical cancer incidence and death rates – a dire statistic considering cervical cancer is largely preventable through vaccination and screening.

Risk-factors for cervical cancer

The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes virtually all cases of cervical cancers. The majority of sexually active women will be exposed to HPV at some point in their lifetime; fortunately, only 5 to 15 percent will develop cervical precancer. An even smaller percentage will develop cancer. Other risk factors include multiple pregnancies, a long duration of birth control pill use, a history of other sexually transmitted diseases and tobacco use.

The importance of the HPV vaccine

Nowadays, you can take an extra step toward protecting your children against cervical and other types of HPV-related cancers through the HPV vaccine. This vaccination used to be a three-dose process, the CDC now recommends that all 11 to 12 year-old children – girls and boys – get just two doses, with the second being given six to 12 months after the first.

Young women can get the vaccine through age 26, while young men can get vaccinated through age 21. Every year, more than 17,000 women and more than 9,000 men get cancer caused by an HPV infection.

Don’t overlook getting a Pap smear

Cervical cancer screening – the Pap smear – is a regular appointment that is often overlooked. This test looks for cancerous cells on the cervix and can even find precancerous changes that have not yet developed into cancer.

I can’t recommend this test enough – at Markey, about 95 percent of cervical cancer patients we treat have not gotten their recommended schedule of cervical cancer screenings. Screenings usually begin at age 21 or three years after first sexual intercourse. Talk to your doctor about a timeline for regular screenings.

Cervical cancer symptoms

One reason the vaccine and screenings are so important is because cervical cancer often doesn’t cause obvious symptoms until its more advanced stages. Some of the most common symptoms reported include abnormal bleeding or bleeding after sexual intercourse, and an abnormal discharge. Many of these symptoms can be mistaken for less serious issues, such as a yeast infection or urinary tract infection.

As the cancer advances further, it can cause urinary blockage, back pain, leg swelling or neuropathic pain, such as a “pins and needles” sensation in the skin.

As you work through your resolutions for the New Year, make taking care of yourself a priority – and that includes scheduling a few regular trips to your doctor.


Next steps:

  • If you or someone you love is interested in receiving the HPV vaccine, schedule an appointment with the Markey Cancer Center online or at 859-323-5553.
  • Markey also offers a comprehensive cancer screening and prevention program, including tests for cervical cancer. Learn more about our program.
Making the Rounds with Dr. Lowell Anthony

Markey oncologist Lowell Anthony says it takes a village to treat cancer

Making the RoundsDr. Lowell Anthony, an oncologist at the UK Markey Cancer Center, sat down with us for the latest installment of Making the Rounds, a blog series where you’ll get to know the providers at UK HealthCare. Dr. Anthony specializes in treating neuroendocrine cancer, a rare form of the disease that begins in the hormone-producing cells of the body.

Tell us about the types of patients you see at Markey.

I’ve spent the last 30 years seeing patients with a wide variety of different types of neuroendocrine cancer. My focus is on tumors that are called carcinoids. These tumors can arise in the gastrointestinal tract, they can arise in the pancreas, they can arise in the lung. These cells are dispersed all through the body but there are certain areas where they’re concentrated.

What do you find most rewarding about working at Markey?

It’s the multidisciplinary approach we take with our patients and the collegiality of the people I work with. When a patient comes to Markey, we develop a care plan across specialties because it takes a village, really, to treat cancer. And we develop that care plan quickly so that the patient doesn’t have to make a lot of trips back and forth. I think that’s the real value for our patients.

What’s your biggest fear?

Not finding a parking space.

What’s your favorite food?

Sushi. I like eel a lot, so the caterpillar roll is my favorite. That’s got a lot of eel in it.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

The worst job I’ve ever had was in a chicken house putting chickens in their crates for travel. It was challenging, but I could probably still do it today, if I had to.

What’s the best part about working and living in Lexington?

It’s a relatively small community but it has big community opportunities. I look at it as an undiscovered environment – it’s sort of the best kept secret. The climate is great, we have excellent restaurants, there’s plenty to do and having the undergraduate campus around us just makes Lexington feel alive and vibrant.


Watch a video interview with Dr. Anthony, where he tells us about the most exciting things happening in cancer research and treatment today.


Next steps:

  • The carcinoid and neuroendocrine cancer team at Markey takes a multidisciplinary approach to treatment that involves chemotherapy, radiation therapy and interventional therapy. Learn more about our team.
  • Geri McDowell was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer and was running out of options for treatment. That’s when Dr. Anthony recommended a clinical trial that offered her hope for recovery. Read Geri’s story.
A new study, done in part at the UK Markey Cancer Center, shed light on why lung cancer cells can resist therapeutic cancer treatment.

Markey’s Dr. Timothy Mullet appointed to Commission on Cancer

Dr. Timothy Mullet

UK Markey Cancer Center’s Dr. Timothy Mullett has been appointed to the Commission on Cancer (CoC), a consortium of professional organizations dedicated to improving survival and quality of life for cancer patients across the country. Mullett is one of eight surgeons from across the country elected to represent the fellowship for a three-year term.

Established by the American College of Surgeons (ACoS) in 1922, the multidisciplinary CoC establishes standards to ensure high-quality, multidisciplinary and comprehensive cancer care delivery in healthcare settings; conducts surveys in healthcare settings to assess compliance with those standards; collects standardized data from CoC-accredited healthcare settings to measure cancer care quality; uses data to monitor treatment patterns and outcomes and enhance cancer control and clinical surveillance activities; and develops effective educational interventions to improve cancer prevention, early detection, cancer care delivery and outcomes in healthcare settings.

Mullett began his career at UK in 1996 as a thoracic surgeon treating heart issues, but quickly changed his focus to one of Kentucky’s biggest problems: lung cancer. In addition to co-leading one of the major components of the Kentucky LEADS Collaborative to improve lung cancer survival, he also serves as medical director for both the UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate and Research Networks.


Next steps:

Neurogastronomy Symposium at UK HealthCare

Neurogastronomy Symposium at UK helps us understand taste and flavor

Dan Han, PsyD, clinical section chief of neuropsychology at UK HealthCare, works with patients who have brain injuries and neurodegenerative disorders, many of whom describe loss of smell and, in tandem, changes in the way food tastes.

These taste-related side effects piqued Han’s interest in neurogastronomy, a field of study that looks at how the brain influences a person’s perception of food. With the help of an internationally renowned chef, Han created the International Society of Neurogastronomy (ISN) and is hosting the second annual Neurogastronomy Symposium at UK HealthCare this Saturday, Dec. 5.

Enthusiastic about neurogastronomy

In 2012, Han met chef Fred Morin and discovered they shared a passion for neurogastronomy. Their conversation inspired Han to reconsider how this science could help patients with brain injuries or cancer.

Could foods be designed that adjusted for the flavor perception issues reported by these patients?

Two years later, Han, Morin and others co-founded the ISN with the intent to start answering this very question. Late last year, the ISN held its first symposium at UK HealthCare. Chefs, doctors, clinical psychologists, agriculturists, researchers and cancer patients gathered for the event, which included roundtable discussions and engaging presentations.

Second annual symposium

This Saturday, Han and company will host the second annual Neurogastronomy Symposium at UK, continuing their exploration of the concept of brain and behavior in the context of food. This year’s event will feature brief, TED talk-like presentations punctuated with breaks for tastings and a contest where the food from regional and national chefs will be judged by patients with taste impairments.

Han hopes that the ISN’s work can help clinicians better understand the importance of taste perception for a patient’s well-being. Indeed, he finds his own approach has been changed by his research.

“I ask every one of my patients now, ‘How’s your smell and taste? How is that aspect of your quality of life?’” Han said. “It wasn’t until I started asking that I noticed how many people will tell you that it has been compromised. But nobody’s asked about it and they never thought to bring it up because they never heard of mentioning that type of thing in the doctor’s office.”

“We’re trying to challenge that,” he adds, “so that patients undergoing treatment can recover their quality of life – a little bit at least.”


Next steps:

UK Nursing student Brandy Smith received a breast cancer diagnosis while still in school. But rather than lose hope, she was determined to graduate on time.

UK nursing student refuses to let cancer diagnosis delay her dreams

Striding across the finish line in pink knee-high socks imprinted with the phrase “tough ta-tas,” Brandy Smith completed her first 5K as a breast cancer survivor on Oct. 23.

She wore a victory sash and clasped a pink carnation as she and husband Jason waited for friends at the ballpark. The race was a moment of exhalation for the UK student who refused to let her illness hinder her progress toward becoming a nurse.

Smith diagnosed with breast cancer while in school

One year earlier, Smith walked across the same finish line at the Whitaker Bank Lexington Legends Stadium knowing her struggle with breast cancer was just beginning. At the time of her diagnosis, the 28-year-old from Middlesboro, Ky. was working clinical rotations at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, the UK Birthing Center and UK Polk-Dalton Clinic, as well as taking courses in the UK College of Nursing.

Breast cancer threatened to interrupt her progress toward graduation. After detecting an abnormal lump on the top of her right breast last October, Smith immediately suspected she was the next victim of breast cancer in her family. Oncologists at the UK Markey Cancer Center located a stage-2 tumor the size of a softball on the outer top of her right breast, which required aggressive and immediate chemotherapy followed by radiation and a bilateral mastectomy. When she got the call with the biopsy results, her suspicions were confirmed.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, I know,’” Smith said of hearing the news. “I did cry, but it was not a shocker.”

Smith believes ‘movement is medicine’

After her diagnosis, Smith tested positive for the BRCA-1 gene, learning her genetic predisposition put her at an 85 percent chance of developing the disease. Her treatment plan included rounds of aggressive chemotherapy treatment and double mastectomy surgery in the spring. She consulted with professors and the dean of the UK College of Nursing, who supported her decision to push through school and an intensive treatment plan at the same time.

“She was like, ‘Let’s do this,’” Smith said of Dean Janie Heath.

But beating cancer and finishing school wasn’t enough for Smith, who thrives on activity. She wanted to finish next year’s breast cancer awareness race as a runner and a survivor. Despite the physical hardship and exhaustion in the coming year, she decided to take up walking, and when she had the energy, running. She signed up for races and mentored young runners. She even joined an online runner’s group, connecting with fellow runners and cancer patients across the globe.

“Some people said I should take some time off nursing school,” Smith said. “For me, movement is medicine.”

Running and physical activity boosted Smith’s immune system and helped her body recuperate after depressive treatments. Smith believes keeping company with positive people and staying active kept her emotionally and physically stable through the rigors of nursing training and cancer treatment.

Family taught Smith to stay positive

No stranger to breast cancer, Smith learned toughness battling the disease from women in her family. Her maternal grandmother and seven aunts received a breast cancer diagnosis and her cousin tested positive for BRCA-1. Smith’s mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer at 26, and after beating the disease experienced a recurrence at 30. Growing up around breast cancer survivors sensitized Smith to the importance of regular screenings and mammograms. She said she learned how to fight cancer from her mother’s positive outlook.

“This is the exact same way she tackled it,” Smith said, referring to how her mother approached cancer. “That is one thing I have to say, I learned it from my mom. I took her positivity. When she had it, she never let anything get her down.”

Smith’s diagnosis came at a critical point in her nursing education. Rather than postponing her career goals, she continued clinical and classroom training through 12 weeks of dual chemotherapy, 12 more weeks of another chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiation therapy during the summer. Also, with goals to have a family, Smith went through oncofertility treatment, which induced menopause during chemotherapy to preserve her reproductive functioning. Refusing to use her disease as an excuse to stay home, Smith missed one clinical during the fall semester and was absent for two weeks for her mastectomy procedure. Her husband sometimes doubted whether she was well enough to go, but Smith always insisted.

“I could be in worse places,” she said. “I am surrounded by nurses, so if something goes bad, they know what to do.”

UK Nursing helps one of its own

Smith’s professors and classmates rallied behind Smith in her effort to graduate in December 2016. Many of her professors organized meals and accommodated her treatment schedule to ensure she had the opportunity to succeed. Smith completed clinical rotations wearing a beanie to cover her head and hiding the port in her chest. Chemotherapy affected her energy level and sometimes interfered with her ability to focus for exams. Students and faculty donated items and brought her Mr. Goodbars after her mastectomy surgery.

Smith also mentored elementary age girls during her cancer treatment. As part of her required public health rotation, she volunteered for Girls on the Run at Lansdowne Elementary, boosting their confidence and self-esteem and encouraging them to stay physically active. Her students sent her a load of get-well cards after her mastectomy surgery.

“I still have glitter all over my house,” she said.

Moving forward as a cancer survivor

As a cancer survivor, Smith plans to enter pediatric oncology nursing when she graduates this December. After her year battling cancer, she feels she can relate to young oncology patients and bring positivity to situations that seem hopeless. She has also learned emotional toughness, which will help her stay strong when seeing others suffering or enduring harsh therapies. She will also encourage children to move and play through pain and sickness to boost their immune systems and morale.

“You have to laugh through it because it’s what helps you,” she said. “I want to encourage them to be active, even if it’s just getting up and walking around a playroom.”

In a gathering of her entire College of Nursing class, Smith announced her cancer-free status on Oct. 5. The news was met with a round of applause. Many students sent her messages saying they were inspired by her resilience and positivity, which persists after cancer.

“As much fun as I’ve had, it’s been horrible at times,” Smith said. “But it could have been worse — I got to have milkshakes every day.”

Media inquiries: Elizabeth Adams, University of Kentucky Public Relations and Marketing, elizabethtadams@uky.edu.


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