In 1995, Jason Schwartz’s life goal was to play professional football. But a leukemia diagnosis changed that scenario.
“Why me? How did this happen?” the seventh-grader asked himself. In search of answers, Jason immersed himself in understanding more about his treatment. Taking ownership of the process, he learned all he could about cancer.
“As I went through treatment and looked at my lab results and talked to my doctors, my curiosity and interest in human physiology was strengthened,” he recalls.
Dennis Medford, Jason’s teacher at St. Jude, helped the boy keep up with his classmates back home. Jason’s goal was to return to the hospital as a physician.
“The whole time, there was this light at the end of the tunnel that gave me a reason to be laser-focused,” he says. During college, Jason was chosen to participate in the St. Jude Pediatric Oncology Education program, where he worked in the Department of Structural Biology.
“That cemented the fact that I really liked research in addition to clinical aspects,” he says.
Following in the footsteps of his St. Jude oncologist, Jeffrey Rubnitz, MD, PhD, Jason earned both MD and PhD degrees. During medical school, Jason had the opportunity to return to St. Jude and work with his mentor.
“It was really special to work on service with this physician who had been my primary doctor when I was there as a patient,” Jason says. “It’s something that I won’t forget.”
After completing medical school, Jason entered a pediatric residency program at Vanderbilt University, always keeping his eyes on St. Jude.
His hard work has paid off: Jason has been chosen as a Pediatric Hematology/Oncology fellow at St. Jude. In July of 2014, his journey will come full circle, as he cares for children at the hospital where he received cancer treatment.
Abridged from Promise, Winter 2014