November 15, 2012

STUDENTS’ STORIES | After being cured of cancer at age 11, Nisha Drummond ’14 pursues career in medicine

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When she was 11 years old, Nisha Drummond ’14 noticed a mysterious swelling on the side of her neck.After initially telling her that the symptoms did not appear  to be the result of cancer, her doctors called back to say they had made a mistake: In fact, Drummond was afflicted with a form of lymphoma — a diagnosis that she said has permanently altered her health, study habits and career goals.Drummond had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer characterized by an overproduction of white blood cells in the bone marrow.  At just 11, Drummond had no idea what “lymphoma” meant. While at school, after receiving the diagnosis, she  googled the word.  “Nah, I don’t have that,” she remembers thinking to herself.   But she soon began the disease’s two-and-a-half-year treatment series. She underwent cycles of chemotherapy, spinal taps, bone marrow aspirations and myriad other medical procedures.Fortunately, Drummond said a solid support system from her family allowed her to keep a positive outlook throughout her treatment. One of her parents stayed with her every night she needed to stay in the hospital, she said, and despite missing about a year’s worth of classes, she did not fall behind in school.“I really did handle treatment very well emotionally and was always laughing and was just a very happy kid,” Drummond said.  “So going through treatment wasn’t [too] detrimental to my life.”Now 20 years old, Drummond is still cancer-free. She visits her doctor at home every six months for a checkup, but since the cancer has not returned more than five years after her original diagnosis, Drummond is considered “cured.”But although she no longer has acute lymphoblastic lymphoma Drummond said the aftereffects of the disease will likely remain with her throughout the rest of her life. The common cold, for instance, is more complicated for Drummond than for the average college student.“My body’s just different now than it ever was. A cold that would last a few days for most of us will linger on for weeks, or turn into something more serious,” she said. During Drummond’s freshman year, an ordinary flu turned into bronchitis and then pneumonia.“It’s an interesting life,” she said.In addition to physical complications, Drummond has had to adjust to new roadblocks in learning as a result of the treatments she underwent as a child.“Now I’m finding that I’m kind of losing the memory part of [my mind] because of the treatment,” she said. Without sitting and making a concerted effort, Drummond finds it difficult to recall much of her middle school and high school years, she said. After receiving grades that were lower than she had hoped for during her freshman year, Drummond assumed it was because she was not putting enough time into school. But by “sophomore year, I knew that there was something missing,” she said. Drummond went to see a doctor and was diagnosed with proactive interference — a condition in which traces of a person’s previous knowledge and memories interfere with their ability to absorb new information.“When I’m talking, especially to professors or people that I need to speak eloquently to, I can’t remember words. Sounding smart has become an issue,” she said. Since the diagnosis last year, Drummond has been working with psychologists and doctors to figure out ways to work around her condition.Still, Drummond said she has not let her past experience with cancer, or her ongoing efforts to deal with its aftereffects, prevent her from being active on campus. In addition to being vice president of Cornell’s club softball team and in-game promotions chair of the Cornell Sports Marketing Group, Drummond is pre-med, Human Development major keeps her busy.“Especially since I’m here and blend in with the students, I don’t think of myself as anything special,” she said.Drummond, choosing to look on bright side, credits the time she spent as a patient in the hospital with solidifying her desire to become a doctor. Specifically, she wants to become an anesthesiologist, she said.“I always loved science and animals, and I always wanted to be a vet,” she said. “But as soon as I was diagnosed and got to learn what [my doctors] did … I knew this was what I wanted to do.”And Cornell has given her the opportunity to pursue her career aspirations, she said. Drummond participated in Cornell’s Urban Semester program in New York City, where she worked at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and was given the opportunity to shadow doctors and to further explore her love for medicine.“I want to be the doctor for other kids that my doctor was for me,” she said.

Original Author: Rebecca Friedman