Her diagnosis leads to career

Katherine Frega was a high school junior in Westfield, N.J., in May 2010 when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

Upstate medical student Katherine Frega, right, with her sister, Jennifer. Jennifer donated stem cells as part of Katherine’s treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma.

She transferred her cancer care to Upstate when she became a student at Syracuse University in 2012.

Frega graduated from SU with degrees in biology and public policy. In fall 2016 she started medical school at Upstate with the goal of becoming a pediatric oncologist.

Two of her former cancer doctors, Jody Sima, MD, and Andrea Dvorak, MD, are among her mentors now, and her history as a cancer patient provides a unique context for her studies.

“I took an active approach to my treatment, asking ‘sciency’ questions,” Frega recalls. “It’s really cool now, as a first-year medical student, seeing the chemo drugs I was on in clinical trials now being taught to me.”

Frega finds time to volunteer as a leader in Upstate’s “Peds Pals” program, which matches a first- and second-year medical student with a pediatric cancer patient for regular tutoring and companionship. Frega’s “pal” is a teen girl who helps provide Frega with perspective.

“I never really wanted to be known as a person who had cancer,” she realizes. “I wanted to be known for what I want to do for others. I’ve been sick, and I’ve been through some terrible things, but I want to make things better for others.”

This article appears in the spring 2017 issue of Cancer Care magazine.

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