When Kendra von der Embse underwent treatment for an aggressive brain tumor in 2004, she never dreamed that one day she would work side by side with the oncologist who would save her life.
That partnership was made possible by a phone call Kendra’s mom received from a radiologist in their hometown.
After removing a mass from the girl’s brain, clinicians in Ohio had decided to wait a month before beginning treatment. That’s when a concerned radiologist called Kendra’s family. “The doctors here have never treated medulloblastoma before, and they’re excited to be the ones to treat the first case,” the physician said. “As a doctor and a mother, I’m advising you to take your daughter to St. Jude.”
By the time Kendra arrived in Memphis, the tumor had wrapped around her brain and spine like cellophane. Although the subsequent treatment was grueling, it piqued Kendra’s interest in the medical field. Her St. Jude oncologist, Amar Gajjar, MD, encouraged that interest, offering academic advice as well as medical care.
“We looked at some of the genes and mutations that could possibly be precursors to medulloblastoma, which was kind of ironic,” observes Kendra, who later returned to the hospital to work with Gajjar, her physician and mentor.
Now a resident at Firelands Regional Medical Center in Ohio, Kendra plans to practice family medicine and possibly complete a fellowship in hospice care.
“What I learned as a patient gives me quite a different perspective than any of my other classmates in medical school,” she says. “I think I have more empathy for patients because I’ve been there myself; I know what they’re going through.”
Abridged from Promise, Winter 2014