Meet Melissa: College Scholar, Cancer Survivor & Medical Student
We're so pleased to shine a spotlight on Melissa Peace, one of our newly-announced 2018 College Scholars. Congratulations on your scholarship, Melissa!
The College Scholars Program is a Children's Cause initiative new to 2018, slated to be an annual program. We received a competitive slate of impressive survivor applicants for this inaugural class of Scholars and it was incredibly challenging to select just two! College Scholars receive a $2,000 academic scholarship and agree to complete a project of their choosing related to childhood cancer advocacy. (If you're interested in a 2019 scholarship, fill out this form and we'll let you know when we're accepting applications!)
Melissa is a survivor of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and a medical student at George Washington University's School of Medicine, pursuing her dream of becoming a pediatric oncologist.
Diagnosed during her freshman year at Colgate, she spent seven months in treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering. "That year was the most difficult time of my life," she told us. "The physical pain of losing my bodily independence; chemotherapy leaving me so sick I was often an inpatient in the hospital and needed help just to walk to the bathroom. The emotional pain of having to sit through chemo without having the friend I made few months earlier, who passed away from Ewing’s Sarcoma."
Melissa demonstrated incredible drive and determination during that trying time: she completed her final exams while in the hospital receiving treatment! And she made the inspiring decision to shift gears academically and began to study medicine.
She became a Research Assistant at NCI, where she had the opportunity to study drug-resistant Ewing's Sarcoma and Rhabdomyosarcoma in children and young adults. And in December 2016, she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Molecular Biology!
Today, Melissa is building an impressive resume of new achievements at GWU Medical School. She serves as the Vice President of the Latino Medical Student Association and sits on the executive committee of the GW School of Medicine's chapter of the American Medical Association.
"I'm one step closer to becoming a pediatric oncologist and giving back to the community that I am intrinsically connected to," says Melissa. "I want to participate in the College Scholars Program so that I can be an advocate for children with cancer and work to better the field of pediatric oncology research from a legislative perspective."
For Melissa's College Scholars project, she plans to create a pediatric oncology advocacy group at her medical school -- and eventually others. Melissa aims to empower medical students in the DC area to become childhood cancer advocates, harnessing their passion for patient care in a whole new way.
"The creation of this interest group in alliance with CCCA will create a local population of medical students who are eager to support a shared mission," said Melissa. "Bringing our white coats to Capitol Hill will demonstrate that the medical community stands in solidarity with the CCCA mission of advancing childhood cancer research and care. It is my hope that this collaboration will continue to grow over the years, expanding to other medical schools around the country.”
Specifically, Melissa plans to launch a letter-writing campaign to connect medical students with their lawmakers and plans to distribute CCCA advocacy toolkits at relevant events in the DC area. Next spring, Melissa hopes to bring her new network of advocates into the fold for the 2019 Alliance for Childhood Cancer Action Days on Capitol Hill.
"We are thrilled to be working with Melissa as one of our first College Scholars," said George Dahlman, CEO of Children's Cause. "Her idea to bring the voices of medical students into the childhood cancer advocacy arena has the potential to be a real game-changer, creating a new cohort of informed, engaged voices speaking up to lawmakers about research and healthcare issues that impact children with cancer and survivors."