Surviving tumor leads to career path caring for others
BEATING THE ODDS: Eily Cournoyer, a student and brain cancer survivor, says her ultimate goal is to become a translational physician scientist.
COURTESY MICHAEL SALERNO PHOTOGRAPHY
By Rebecca Keister PBN Staff Writer
Eily Cournoyer has quite the story to tell.
When the Portsmouth native was just 8 years old, she was diagnosed with a benign pediatric brain tumor and given a month to live unless she immediately had surgery to remove the noncancerous growth.
Over the next 13 years, she developed an interest in medicine that eventually led to winning a Fulbright grant to study cancer at the graduate level at the Cancer Institute at University College London, in England, where she’ll work on how to improve hematopoietic stem-cell transplants for blood cancers.
She also won a Whitaker International Program Fellowship grant to help support her studies.
PBN: Do you remember how you felt when you heard about your tumor diagnosis and that you would need brain surgery?
COURNOYER: I think because I was so young, it was more of a shock. I didn’t know what was happening. My parents did, but because it was so quick, I kind of went with the flow and knew they’d take care of me. I don’t think I understood the severity.
PBN: All these years later, does that experience make you thankful for your good health?
COURNOYER: Definitely. I appreciate the fact that it happened to me as a child now that I know so much more about science and what goes on. I’m glad I was more naive about it. If I had it now, I’d be on Web MD researching everything and the worst-case scenario. The best thing about it was that it was quick. You couldn’t dwell on it. I was given a month to live so I had to have surgery.
PBN: Is your personal experience alone what made you want to become a doctor?
COURNOYER: I think it was a starting-off point. … I got my tonsils out in the sixth grade and became interested in seeing what they would do. In the eighth grade I took a physiology and anatomy class and became much more interested in how the body works. I’ve also always wanted to be able to help people and have been passionate about caring for people. I came to the university, where I did some research and my first project was investigating nanoparticles and one of the unique properties was that they crossed the blood brain barrier and could be used in treatments. Going into school, I really did want to be a doctor. But at [an internship] last summer at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital [in Memphis, Tenn.], that was 100 percent, definite this is what I was doing for the rest of my life.