Julia Gardner boxes pajamas for pediatric cancer patients.

Pharmacy Student Beats Cancer, Helps Others

by Natalia Kirychuk, Student Public Relations Writer

Third-year professional pharmacy student Julia Gardner was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) on Aug. 15, 2015, just six weeks after her wedding. After two 1/2 years of treatment, Gardner is in remission and anticipating a 2020 graduation from Cedarville University.

ALL is a cancer that causes bone marrow to make too many immature white blood cells. These cells take the place of normal, functioning blood cells and inhibit the processes of bringing oxygen to organs, healing wounds and fighting infections. The news devastated Gardner, who had visited the doctor after noticing symptoms of exhaustion, dizziness and lack of color in her face. Now, her whole life plan had changed.

After her diagnosis, Gardner withdrew from school and began a two 1/2-year treatment that involved more than 90 days in the hospital, 30-plus blood and platelet transfusions and moving back in with her parents for 24-hour care.

“The first month or so of treatment consisted of us realizing how life-altering this diagnosis would be,” said Gardner. “I was basically quarantined from friends and family for a whole year. It was tough, but I knew God was sending me down this road in order to grow closer to him.”

Through all the treatments and hospital visits, Gardner spent her time building new hobbies and growing closer to her family. Together, they started an organization called Julia’s Jammies. The organization collects new pajamas and donates them to children’s oncology floors. So far, they’ve donated almost 3,000 pairs of pajamas to 13 hospitals.

On Oct. 1, 2015, Gardner’s friends and classmates at Cedarville University participated in the Light the Night event in Kettering, Ohio. Light the Night is a fundraising event for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The class president of the first-year professional pharmacy class came up with the idea of joining the event as a tribute to Gardner. Supporters also bought T-shirts designed by the Gardner family to raise money for treatment.

“The faculty and staff of the pharmacy department were especially helpful,” said Gardner. “They understood I needed the time off and when I was ready to return, they welcomed me with open arms, ready to help me in any way they could. I ended up being hospitalized for two weeks last fall and missed two weeks of school. My faculty were so helpful and let me facetime into class so I wouldn't miss anything. They truly are there to help me pursue my dreams.”

“We all tried to work with Julia and her family to allow her to balance both school and health,” said Dr. Aleda Chen, assistant dean of the school of pharmacy. “She has been an amazing example of perseverance and calling. She managed to do her studies well while continuing treatments and follow-ups. She clearly has a heart to work with patients in similar and different situations and to provide holistic patient care.”

Gardner’s treatment ended on Dec. 17, 2017. She is now healthy and in remission from her leukemia. The treatment caused avascular necrosis, a joint disorder that Gardner will live with for the rest of her life. She has had surgery on three joints and has another planned for December 2018.

“I have seen nothing but positivity and determination from Julia to get back into school and succeed,” said Rachel Burgoon, a third-year professional pharmacy student from New Market, Maryland. “Her leukemia definitely gave her a passion for pediatric oncology, and the school of pharmacy has allowed her to help start our pediatrics PRN interest group. She is an incredible person and has never once let her illness be an excuse to not be a good student or friend.”

Gardner hopes to graduate in May 2020 with her Doctor of Pharmacy Degree (Pharm.D.) and begin her career as a pharmacist.

Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 4,193 undergraduate, graduate and online students in more than 150 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, strong graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings and leading student satisfaction ratings. For more information about the University, visit www.cedarville.edu.