Students in the UTHSC College of Medicine Class of 2021 and 2022 recently wrapped up a T-shirt fundraiser to benefit an incoming classmate diagnosed with cancer.
Josiah Brandt was set to begin medical school in the fall of 2018. Months before starting at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine, he traveled the country in his pickup truck turned camper, passing the days rock climbing and snowboarding. Throughout that time, he noticed an increasingly persistent cough and swollen lymph nodes.
After his cross country adventure, Brandt was eager to begin medical school, even signing a lease for an apartment, with plans to move in a couple of weeks before the semester started. A trip to the doctor changed his plans. Just one week before his move to Memphis, Brandt learned the cough and swollen lymph nodes he was experiencing were symptoms of something more serious. His diagnosis – stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“One day I was signing a lease and getting fitted for a white coat, the next I was told I would need at least half a year of chemotherapy,” Brandt said.
A total of $2,591.42 was raised through donations and the sale of theT-shirt, which depicted the artwork theme of “One Community.” The funds will go toward helping Brandt cover the costs of his cancer treatments.
“The theme of One Community is that we are UTHSC – we all support each other,” said Theresa Borcky, M2.
Brandt said the weeks following his diagnosis were some of the hardest he’s ever experienced.
“It didn’t even feel real,” he said. “I needed a bone marrow biopsy and a port put in my chest right away, and soon after, I had a bad reaction to the chemo drugs. I was hospitalized three times, because I lost a dangerous amount of weight and couldn’t walk without falling or speak without slurring my words. Over time, my condition improved, the treatments became easier, and the support of family and friends helped me remain optimistic.”
Some of those friends are students in the College of Medicine Class of 2021 and 2022, including M2 student Mary McBride, who knows Brandt through a mutual friend.
“Lately there has been a big deal within our class about wellness,” said McBride. “Wellness can mean a lot of different things to people, but a lot of it is caring about each other, and supporting each other, no matter how that may be. Just saying, regardless of who you are within UT and where you are in your education, we support each other and we are one family.”
“And that you’ll always have your class to look out after you,” Borcky said. “Our class is extremely caring and I really appreciate that.”
Growing up in a family of health care professionals, Brandt said he constantly heard stories about personalized care and how it can improve the lives of patients. He was naturally drawn to practicing medicine, so that he could directly help people. He still has plans to attend UTHSC once his health improves.
“The past year has shown me the importance of a patient-centered, holistic approach to health care,” said Brandt, who worked in hospitals as an ER scribe after graduating with a chemical and biomolecular engineering degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in 2017. “I could tell the difference between health care providers who treated their patients with empathy and those who did not. This difference became very real to me when I became a patient. I hope this experience will help shape me into a more compassionate doctor.”
Borcky and McBride agree that learning about Brandt’s journey has helped shaped them as student physicians. “It’s not just us as doctors or them as patients,” said McBride. “Things can happen to anyone and having that empathy for our patients can be really helpful. We are about to be in our clinical year, and this experience has helped us put ourselves in other people’s shoes. And to know that we are not immune to things happening in our lives.”
Although T-shirt sales have ended, the College of Medicine is still taking donations, which can be dropped off at the College of Medicine Office of Student Affairs, located at 910 Madison, Suite 1031.
Brandt said he’s thankful to the students, staff, and everyone who helped make the fundraiser happen. “This fundraiser was incredibly thoughtful and kind,” Brandt said. “I’m proud to be part of such a caring community of Tennesseans.”