Essay by Jennifer Le

Jennifer Le of Santa Ana won Orange County Mensa’s $2,000 Art Mattson Memorial Scholarship.

Ever since I was a child, I was an ambitious creature who left my audience, especially my mother, in awe and confusion. From creating a “skating rink” by pouring soap water throughout my tile-floored home to making a skateboard by taping my brother’s Hot Wheels cars to a foam board, I made do with what I had to execute my grand visions. There are times where my plans miraculously come to fruition and others where I end up scrapping my knee across the cement floor. Thankfully for my mother, who had to clean up the aftermath of my creations, my ambitions manifested themselves into something greater. By combining the clinic and lab as a physician researcher, I will one day improve the efficiency of cancer treatments, specifically through the use of personalized medicine.

My interest in becoming an oncologist began when my brother, at the age of eight, was diagnosed with aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. For my fifth-grade self, cancer was a mysterious monster rapidly taking over my brother’s body. Every time I visited him, I would feel disheartened at his state. His hair began to fall, and his immune system began to weaken, which I came to know as the effects of chemotherapy. Gradually, as months went by, his hair began to grow back, and his immune system was functioning as it once did. The only difference was that the tumor in his lymphatic system had shrunk. After witnessing the power of chemotherapy in treating my brother’s tumor, I became fascinated with how science can be utilized in saving lives.

Whether scrolling through the multitude of links on the National Cancer Institute website or watching informational videos, I sought to fuel the flame of passion in my heart for oncology. From my experience in AP Biology learning about the cell cycle and how its errors can lead to cancer by allowing for rapid uncontrolled cell division, I continued my exploration by applying for the University of California, Irvine (UCI) Cancer Research Institute Fellowship Program. In this five-week summer program, I gained insight into the field of oncology through panels and seminars with UCI’s top cancer researchers. Reading the numerous research papers written by these presenters and speaking with them about the applications of their research, I realized that oncology is more than just the study of cancer, but is a versatile field that can be incorporated with other subjects from computer science to social activism. Inspired by the researchers I interacted with, many of whom were physician-researchers themselves, I wish to continue exploring and potentially even challenging the field of oncology.

By taking challenging AP classes and college courses ranging from Calculus to psychology, I have prepared myself for the rigor of college. I will persevere through every challenge that comes my way with the foundations I have built from my experiences both inside and outside the classroom. Like my other ambitious visions, I will see my plan to fruition. By majoring in Chemical Engineering and completing an MD-PhD program, I will become a physician-scientist who will create efficient cures for even the most aggressive cancers to mitigate the cost of treatment and, most importantly, help save lives of cancer patients like my brother.



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