I grew up in Laramie, Wyoming, a small university town in the southeast part of the state, near the Colorado border. Since I have family in Colorado and Nebraska, I also spent a lot of time in those two beautiful states: with my aunt in the mountains of Colorado, where she keeps about a dozen horses as well as ducks, dogs and cats; and with my grandfather, who retired to a farm in Nebraska where he farmed and raised steers. Summers with my aunt and my grandfather were always educational, learning all about the outdoors, rural life and living with large and small animals.
My grandfather was the first large animal veterinarian in Johnson County, Wyo., setting up practice in the 1960's. Coming from the Denver area, he faced considerable challenges demonstrating to wary farmers and ranchers that his new "exotic" medical knowledge could compete with traditional remedies. He always had the James Herriot-type stories to share, great stories of animals and people. Summers with my grandfather after he retired to Nebraska were wonderful experiences of learning all about farm life and how to help with animal care, vaccinations, branding.
My aunt in Colorado had a lot of land, but she earned her living as a ski instructor in the winter and a rafting guide in the summer. The active outdoors lifestyle was always her goal and she loved teaching something she knows so well, but she also deeply loves her land and her animals. Just as my grandfather passed along his knowledge and appreciation of ranching and farming, I was also the beneficiary of my aunt's expertise and love of the outdoors lifestyle.
Unlike most of my colleagues, veterinary medicine wasn't my first career choice, despite having my grandfather as a role model. He is part of the reason I went into veterinary medicine ultimately, but my first choice was Criminal Justice. It wasn't until my second year at the University of Wyoming that I realized I couldn't commit to a career based solely on societal law, I wanted to learn and be bound by laws that are real, physical and immutable - scientific laws.
I had to think about what to do next. I had always done well in biology, math and the other sciences and it was then that I recalled some of those great stories grandpa had told me and decided - on a whim - to switch to Animal Sciences and Veterinary Medicine, a pre-veterinary program at UW. I loved it!
At Colorado State University, I was introduced to oncology during my junior year in the veterinary medicine program and found that I was strongly drawn to radiation oncology. I spent as much extra time as I could in that area, learning the protocols and getting to know the team really well. So when, after graduation and a year in private practice, I was offered an internship at the CSU Flint Animal Cancer Center in Radiation Oncology, I was thrilled to return to Fort Collins.
I could say that I have an interest in oncology because my life has been touched by cancer, and it has, but cancer has touched almost everyone's life. In my case, it is the pure science of cancer that captures my attention - the mathematics and physics of radiation therapy, looking at it mechanistically and at the cellular level.
My dad and my brother are both engineers so I grew up in an environment that pays special attention to the physical world around us, asks hard questions and seeks full answers. I love the scientific details of creating a treatment for our patients, that we can evaluate dose volume histograms and tailor specific plans graphically for each patient. Yet, I also love the personal component, working with people to help a dearly loved family member.