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Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer CenterVanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center


Patrick McGowan

In 2006, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma Stage IV b. I can’t really explain the thoughts in my mind at the time, but they were mostly irony and disbelief. To think, all the pain I experienced in my life so far would pale in comparison to the pain I was about to experience as would my friends and family. I went on medical leave from my job and started the journey of treatment. Not a very pleasant journey.

When cancer strikes you, your life is paused. The only thing you can do is try to get better. There is no moving forward at this time; everything is suspended, and it gives you time to think about everything. I don’t really want to explain everything that was involved with my treatment, but I’ll just say it was the most painful experience of my life. Even after the last blast of radiation, this disease finds a way to interfere with your life years down the road. Due to the chemotherapy side effects, I developed neuropathic pain in my right leg and was put on the drug Neurontin. This medicine made me very calm and quiet at work, and I was asked to stop taking my medicine or quit. We expect to be treated fairly after making it through something like cancer, but sadly, there are some things we cannot change. In retrospect, I would have rather gone through this than to have not.

Along with all the time I had to think about my life, I understood things as I never had before. It is truly a wonderful feeling to finally understand why you are alive and to understand how to live your life to the fullest. I will leave this world in better shape than when I found it through interaction with others or through the work I do. We all have a purpose in this world, and even if I die today, I know that I have affected enough people around me in the last four years. I know their lives are better, and the people they interact with will have better lives too. It is a ripple effect, and once you have seen some of the enormously beautiful things people are capable of, you can’t help but pass that knowledge on to as many people as possible. That is my purpose. That is why I am alive.

The Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Young Ambassadors are the next generation of philanthropists committed to winning the battle against cancer by raising money for the “VICCtory over Cancer” fund. My role in the Young Ambassadors Program is the result of my desire to have a treatment for Cancer that doesn’t include all the horrible side effects of traditional chemotherapy and radiation, which has a life-long impact on the patient.

When you experience something as disgusting as cancer, you pray no one else ever feels the same pain that you have felt. I am grateful for what we do know about cancer treatment at this point, but change is absolutely necessary. Right now we’re chopping off the arm to fix the hand and this IS NOT good enough. Being poisoned slowly is how we treat this disease now, but the thought of being able to simply take a pill to stop a tumor from growing is an amazing dream to me. This discovery grant is the beginning of that dream.

As we look back on the sacrifices made in order to get to this point, our future generations will also look back and see how we struggled, overcame and made their standard of care possible. Survival is the driving force behind all life on this planet. The quality of that survivorship is left up to us to determine. We have the wisdom to know that we can change this part of our world, and we must have the courage to do so. Not only for those that we have seen suffer in the past, but for our future generations. Good things happen in time, but great things happen all at once. This is our moment to put our minds together and end the suffering of our friends and families. There are few things in this world as important as what we are doing here and to be a part of it is the greatest honor for no person lives or dies in vain.

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