Going through cancer during my last two years of high school made me realize how lucky I was to still be able to attend and do well in school. Many of the friends I met through my experience with cancer were not able to stay in school during and after their treatment, and quickly fell behind. However, because my treatment was primarily over the summer, I was able to keep up with the rest of my classmates. Furthermore, a student at my school who had been going through cancer treatment for a few years before me inspired me to continue working hard and focus on learning more even though teachers offered us easier workloads, and ever since I have followed his example to keep gaining knowledge in subjects and activities I am interested in and try my hardest to succeed.
Spending a lot of time in the hospital also showed me how important research is and how many different people are involved in each step of getting treatment for a patient. I was able to learn about the jobs that each person does by talking to my doctors, pharmacist, child life specialists, and medical school residents. I became interested in how they could tell different things about each patient based on reading things like scans and blood counts and was able to learn a lot by seeing them so often. When I returned to school for my senior year and began taking an advanced biology class, I discovered I was very interested in molecular biology and biochemistry because of how it related to things I had learned in the hospital. I also discovered that these subjects were very easy for me to understand, which made me want to learn even more.
In addition, my cancer experience made me realize I had an interest in scientific research and opened my eyes to how important research actually is. Because my particular cancer was more highly researched, my treatment was much shorter than that of a lot of my friends’, and I was able to finish with less severe late effects. This showed me that if people keep funding and performing research on not only these other cancers but also other diseases, viruses, and medicines, treatment could be as short and safe for others as it was for me.
During my first two years at Knox College, I have further developed interest in biochemistry and gained interest in organic chemistry. I have been given many opportunities to learn more about these subjects and gain experience working in both chemistry and biochemistry labs, and have been able to begin research in organic chemistry with my professor. In all of my chemistry and biochemistry classes so far, I have discovered there is so much more I can do in these fields than I thought before college; I now am interested in going to graduate school to do research or working in biochemical companies that synthesize compounds others are using. After excelling in my favorite class, organic chemistry, my professor told me about one of her research projects that she believed would be related to my interests in biochemistry. This project involves finding an alternative to compounds made from castor oil, which is used in countless products but presents health risks to workers who process it. I am learning to perform reactions using a structurally similar oil that is safer to grow and process. Towards the end of the series of reactions is a compound that may be able to be used in pharmaceuticals for osteoporosis and other bone diseases. This caught my attention immediately because after my cancer experience, I have a higher risk for these diseases.
Working in this lab has been my favorite experience of my sophomore year and I cannot wait to continue my work when I return to school next year and take more biochemistry classes that I can apply to what I am learning in lab. This experience has helped me realize how much I love lab work and research, and has given me more confidence that this could be what I do after graduating college.
Outside of the classroom at Knox I have also had many opportunities to get involved in the fields I am interested in. After being a member of the Knox Chemistry Club for a year, I was elected as secretary for the 2014-2015 year. I am very excited to be able to be more involved as I will be able to work closely with other students in the chemistry and biochemistry department, as well as the professors. This also allowed me to join the American Chemical Society, which provides the opportunity to meet professionals in chemistry and biochemistry and even present my research done at Knox at conferences my junior or senior year. However, my favorite part of
Chemistry Club is going to local elementary schools and children’s museums to perform demonstrations and help kids learn more about chemistry. It is always a lot of fun to see how excited they get.
Being at Knox has also provided the chance to explore new topics that I would not have before. This year, one of my friends who is an international student from Korea got the chance to teach beginning Korean as an official class. I got to take this class and begin learning a language and culture I otherwise knew nothing about. It was very interesting to compare to Chinese, which I have been taking since elementary school through this year of college.
Overall, being at Knox has provided so many opportunities for me to learn so much through both classes and extracurricular activities, and I am so excited to continue expanding on these subjects over my last two years.