For so many reasons, becoming the Lucy Scholar Resident in Medical Oncology at CSU's Flint Animal Cancer Center is profoundly moving for me, a dream realized. I am a three-time alumna of Colorado State University, but a far more special reason is that I began this journey as a client, with two remarkable dogs named Keely and Copper.
I grew up on a farm in rural North Dakota where my parents are fourth generation farmers on our land. My sister, a soil conservationist with the USDA, and her family will soon be running the farm, continuing our connection to the land. Although I loved growing up a farm kid - enjoying the outdoors, the physical labor and learning animal husbandry - I was not drawn to a farming career. Nor, like most of my colleagues who grew up around animals, was I drawn to veterinary medicine.
I was awarded a cross-country and track scholarship to Colorado State University where I earned my undergraduate degree in biology. During those five years, I completed the prerequisites for medical school and engaged in a lot of research, which I loved. After graduation, I took a year off to work as a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service in North Dakota. Returning to CSU with renewed energy, I realized how much I enjoy the university life of research, teaching and learning. With many research opportunities, I pursued a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences, focused in cell biology.
I was newly married and seeking a postdoctoral position when our lives changed drastically. Keely, our three-year-old hound/shepherd mix, became seriously ill. Finally diagnosed with gastrointestinal lymphoma, she underwent emergency surgery at the CSU-VTH, but the cancer was disseminated. We made the difficult decision to end her pain. Keely was family and her loss was devastating. However, throughout the weeks leading to that terrible moment, while working with a team of dedicated veterinarians, I decided I would go to veterinary school.
I worked on my application and shadowed some wonderful veterinarians in Fort Collins. Three months after Keely’s death, while conducting a practice exam on our other dog, Copper, I was horrified to discover enlarged lymph nodes. I knew what that meant. Now, our two-year-old Vizsla became a patient at the Flint Animal Cancer Center.
While Copper underwent treatment, I learned all about chemotherapy, radiation therapy and clinical trials. For the year-and-a-half Copper was treated at the FACC, she was enrolled in a clinical trial exploring a new drug for treating canine lymphoma. She was the first dog in the country to enroll and, although her response was only partial and temporary, I saw the bigger picture, perfectly captured in the FACC mission statement: "to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer in pet animals, translating our research and knowledge to also benefit people with cancer." There is now a part "B" to this trial, which wouldn’t be possible without dogs like Copper. She died in 2010, the year I entered CSU's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences as a veterinary student.
The education and training I received as a veterinary student was augmented by experiences working part-time as an oncology nurse, volunteering as a pet hospice team member and working in Dr. Doug Thamm's research laboratory during school. These experiences solidified my decision to pursue a medical oncology residency, but none meant more to me then connecting with clients going through the same experiences I had with Keely and Copper.
After graduating in May 2014, followed by an internship at North Carolina State University, I sought a residency program with specific requirements: a strong mentorship component and a passion for making meaningful contributions to translational medicine and the One Health initiative. I found that here at the FACC.
My experience with Copper planted the seed for the career I strive for today. I am honored to be a member of this team, a group of incredible people that has meant so much to me personally and professionally. The collaborative, innovative study of cancer practiced here will help me build a foundation for a fulfilling career as a clinician-scientist.
I am deeply honored to have been selected as a Lucy Scholar, a program that provides support to a veterinarian seeking advanced training in medical oncology. The support allows me to make the most of the opportunities offered throughout my residency.
In my spare time, little as it is, my husband and I love being outdoors, attending Broncos games and, as much as possible, going home to North Dakota to see family. We have two loveable dogs: Sadie, an English/Irish Setter; and Beauford, a Coonhound/Bernese Mountain Dog mix. We also have a cat named Quigley. She is small but she runs the household!