Cancer can't stop med school dream

by Jean Ortiz Jones, University of Nebraska-Lincoln | August 26, 2011

Sarah Synovec should have been elated as she stood atop the Eiffel Tower.

But after she climbed hundreds of stairs on that trip with her family, Synovec -- now a first-year medical student at UNMC -- found herself acutely aware that something was wrong.

picture disc.
Sarah Synovec (Kim Hachiya, UNL Communications)
"I was so exhausted. I could barely stand up and look out," she said of the trip she took before her sophomore year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "It was very upsetting to me because I didn't realize why I was so tired all of the time."

Bad news upon return

Soon after she returned home, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Synovec -- a biological sciences major who long dreamed of a career in emergency medicine and trauma surgery -- was crushed.

"I really honestly thought that it was all over," she said.

Attitudinal shift

But after the initial shock, she vowed to remain positive.

She underwent six months of chemotherapy while she forged ahead with her sophomore year. She found support in family, friends and her other family -- the UNL community.

Adviser goes extra mile

Among those who helped keep her dreams on track was her academic adviser, Wendy O'Connor. Synovec called O'Connor a "godsend."

O'Connor was particularly helpful when Synovec moved from her sorority house to an off-campus apartment. Synovec had to live alone while she underwent treatment to protect her fragile immune system.

O'Connor recommended her own apartment complex, so she could be close if Synovec needed a ride to a doctor's appointment or other help.

"She was just willing to do anything for me," Synovec said. "She's just wonderful."

Dream realized

Synovec has been in remission since December 2008. She graduated from UNL earlier this month and started this week at UNMC, where she was treated. She intends to specialize in oncology.

Her experience with her illness and treatment proved inspirational, Synovec said.

"I could bring so much to medicine because I had that personal experience," Synovec said.

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Diane Burton
September 06, 2011 at 10:18 AM

Sarah- what a wonderful article and a beautiful picture. Your amazing outlook is a good lesson for everyone. I know your experience will make you a caring and empathetic physician. What a gift you will be to your patients!!

Mare Rockefeller
August 27, 2011 at 2:58 PM

We are so proud of you Sarah. You are an inspiration for so many people! Way to go. John, Mare, Nick, Luke & Molly Rockefeller

Jagar Jasem
August 26, 2011 at 11:08 PM

Your story is too emotional and inspiraitonal. I felt the tears filling my eyes when I both read about your illness and your remssion. I hope the best for you!

Anna Hulbert
August 26, 2011 at 6:10 PM

Welcome to med school, Sarah! We're glad to have you here.

Deb Pierce-Cramer
August 26, 2011 at 4:45 PM

Sarah's positive life lessons have helped our whole family through the trials and tribulations that life sends our way! Love, Aunt Debbie

Dana Bell & Krista Stoecker
August 26, 2011 at 2:07 PM

:)

Grandpa & Grandma Arensdorf
August 26, 2011 at 1:02 PM

Our dear Sarah, we are so very proud of you and love you very much! Way to go! ~Grandma & Grandpa Arensdorf and family

Susan synovec
August 26, 2011 at 12:37 PM

Our beautiful daughter is an inspiration to all who meet her! We know she will do great things with her medical career.

Sue Anson
August 26, 2011 at 11:23 AM

WAY TO GO!!!!!!!This truly was an inspirational story.

Patty Wisecarver
August 26, 2011 at 9:22 AM

We are so proud of Sarah. She truly is an inspiration to all of us. We are blessed to have such a wonderful God daughter, and look forward to sharing in her journey through medical school.