For many college students working in research labs, an experiment is an experiment. But for Alex Niswonger, each test she conducts is personal—as the former cancer patient conducts cancer research.
“It’s nice to have that personal connection—from having cancer to learning the science behind it,” says Alex, who received treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma at St. Jude during her high school years.
Alex has worked in cancer research labs at both Mississippi College and The University of Memphis as part of preparation for medical school. She credits her St. Jude clinical team with inspiring her career path.
“My nurses were amazing, so I originally planned to go into nursing and actually attended nursing school for a couple of semesters,” Alex says. “Then I realized I wanted to learn more of the science behind the care, so I switched to pre-med.” Her St. Jude oncologist, Scott Howard, MD, supported her evolving career goals.
Alex says she hopes future patients will benefit from her experiences as a patient as well as a support person.
“Before my diagnosis, I dated someone who had cancer, and so I had already gone through the process with him,” she says. “I think it’s a lot easier being the patient than it is watching someone you love go through it.
“As a doctor, I hope I can offer families the comfort of knowing that I have been through it from both sides,” she continues. “That’s something most doctors can’t say. I’ve experienced it firsthand. I can tell them that, ‘Yes, it’s hard, but you can get through this,’ and offer them that support.”
Alex is considering pursuing both MD and PhD degrees so that she can conduct cancer research while providing patient care.