Anita Raj, a third-year medical student at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine was named as one of the 2015 TEVA Scholarship recipients, awarded by the Childhood Cancer Canada Foundation as part of their Survivor Scholarship Program.
At the age of six, the now 22-year old Anita started experiencing headaches, nausea and vomiting. Treatment at the Montreal Children’s Hospital led to her being diagnosed with a craniopharyngioma brain tumour. A four hour surgery to put in a VP shunt to relieve pressure from the brain was followed by an 11-hour surgery performed by Dr. Jean-Pierre Farmer to remove the tumour and most of her pituitary gland. A routine MRI two years later revealed a recurrence of the tumour, which led to radiation therapy. Tumour-free since, she still struggles with the lifelong effects from the tumour including pain, the need to take medications and other related medical conditions.
Anita attributes this childhood experience with setting her on the path to medical school. “My illness and being in the hospital with such nice physicians inspired me, “she says. “I’ve gotten to work in the same hospitals, and sometimes even with the same doctors that treated me. It’s amazing how far I’ve come despite doctors saying at the time of diagnosis that I may not succeed academically.”
The scholarship program supports post-secondary academic endeavors and recognizes the personal triumphs of exemplary students who have survived a childhood cancer journey, with the TEVA being awarded annually to a maximum of 10 students studying in a health related field, and bringing with it $5,000 to help towards tuition. “Winning the TEVA scholarship not only relieves financial burden, but more importantly acknowledges all the hard work I’ve put in, how far I’ve come, and all the obstacles I’ve surpassed,” notes Anita, who has also previously been awarded the Governor General’s Academic Medal. “These obstacles were many, more than most medical students have to go through, and as a result one often feels lonely or like an impostor. When someone out there acknowledges what you’ve been through, it serves as a huge pick-me-up and motivation and pushes you to keep going and push through any adversity.”
Through her remarkable journey and perseverance, Anita believes her experience will serve her well when it comes time to treat her own patients. “Being a survivor of such illness and having gone through so many procedures gives a very unique perspective,” she says. “One that I find helps me understand my patients better and empathize with them.”
February 18, 2016