Allison Rosenthal, D.O., has wanted to be a doctor for as long as she can remember. "Ever since I was a kid," she tells us. "I don't know where I got it from, but it's just something I wanted to do."
More specifically, she wanted to become an orthopedic surgeon. "That's why I went to medical school in the first place," Dr. Rosenthal tells us. But then came spring break of her second year of medical school. "I was planning to meet some friends from college after I'd finished finals, but then I got pretty sick," she says. "I just thought I'd overdone it by studying and not sleeping all week. I thought I had the flu."
A trip to a local emergency department would tell another story. "The ER doctor who assessed me got some fluids going, drew some labs, and then didn't even come back to see me," Dr. Rosenthal tells us. "The next person I met was a hematologist because my labs were so out of whack."
Dr. Rosenthal — just 24 at the time — was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, a rare form of the disease. Over the next two-plus years, she received treatments that would save her life. She also received unsolicited and unexpected advice that would change her career path. "My oncologist kept saying, 'This is what you're going to do. You're going to become an oncologist,'" she tells us. "And I was like, 'You're out of your mind. I'm just trying to survive this, never mind having to be around it every day!'"
But life, as they say, has a funny way of working out. Today, Dr. Rosenthal is a physician in Hematology/Oncology at Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus. And she was recently named the 2017 "Woman of the Year" by the Arizona chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The honor, in part, recognized her work to help raise more than $140,000 for the organization's continued blood cancer research work, as well as financial aid programs for blood cancer patients and their families.
It's also an honor that came with Dr. Rosenthal's likeness being featured on a billboard above an Arizona freeway — something she doesn't seem particularly thrilled about. "It's actually quite horrifying to me, but it's temporary," she tells us with a laugh.
What's not temporary, however, are the effects that Dr. Rosenthal's work, and career change, are having on her patients at Mayo Clinic. "I don't know why I ended up with leukemia, and I don't know why I was able to survive it when other people don't," she tells us. "But I do know that it affords me a unique perspective in taking care of my patients, because the best way to develop empathy for someone is to have gone through what they're going through."
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