Stories of Hope
Cancer Serves as a Motivator for Becoming a Doctor
Article date: September 5, 2001
I believed that as a doctor I could help, and that gave me the motivation to get a second chance in life.
In 1992, Adam Tarnosky was a carefree high school senior in Pensacola, Fla., when he noticed a suspicious lump and went to the doctor. The diagnosis was testicular cancer. With the subsequent surgery and chemotherapy treatment, Tarnosky missed three-fourths of his senior year.
The aftermath of that diagnosis was a tremendously hard experience for the young man. As a football player he had enjoyed an active social life. But with cancer, he lost his physical strength. And in the process he learned who his true friends were, and they became even closer. His family was a tremendous source of support, especially his mother.
“Cancer is definitely a life-changing experience — it changed the direction of my life,” Tarnosky emphasizes. “Cancer caused me to realize the most important thing I had was my intelligence. In observing my doctors, I noticed the difference doctors can make in your life and decided that was the direction I wanted to go.”
Tarnosky feels that, as a cancer patient, he has a special empathy for people who are sick, and decided he could use that if he were to become a doctor.
“I believed that as a doctor I could help, and that gave me the motivation to get a second chance in life,” he adds.
Before going to college, Tarnosky got well. A few surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy removed all evidence of the cancer. However, his doctors watched him closely at regular intervals until he finally passed the big milestone of five years — cancer free.
But, he says, “The real downside of cancer is the tremendous emotional upheaval — will it come back? Every time you have a pain, you worry; you get anxious.”
“Even though cancer is physical, the real difficulty is that you feel so vulnerable in this waiting game that really looms large in every aspect of your life,” he says. “You divide your life into the time before you had cancer and after — it’s such a life-changing experience. I have a much greater appreciation for life.”
Tarnosky graduated from Florida State University (FSU), and went on to get his medical degree from the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville. The Florida division of the American Cancer Society (ACS) awarded him a full scholarship for four years at FSU, plus book money. He was one of the first 18 students to receive this award from Florida’s inaugural ACS College Scholarship program in 1993, the first ACS division to create such a fund.
The ACS scholarship was a strong vote of confidence for him, as well as a great help financially. He had been out of school nearly a year undergoing treatment, which would have been the year he would have worked to help make some money for college. With the scholarship, he could just study and concentrate on making the grades to get into medical school.
Now in Georgia, Tarnosky is just beginning his three-year residency in family practice at the Atlanta Medical Center. He can treat his own patients with the understanding and compassion he well remembers needing and receiving as a cancer patient.
And whenever school is too stressful and he gets down, the 26-year old says his past experience with cancer serves again as a great motivator. “I remember all that I’ve been through; and even more, what I yet have to contribute,” he says.
He is eager for the day when he can give back. “The scholarship was a great help to me, and I would someday like to contribute to the ACS scholarship program, and help other kids with cancer reach for their dreams,” says Tarnosky.