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'If I can do this, anybody can do it'

By Luanne Williams

In May 2017, Parker Jackson walked into his high school library to a big surprise. Two years into his battle with pancreatic cancer, the 18-year-old was handed a full scholarship to Wingate University. Tomorrow, he’ll walk across Wingate’s commencement stage with a new sense of independence and on a mission to help others face their own health battles.

“I had always wanted to go into the medical field, but it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with cancer and I saw how my team of doctors took care of me like I was their family that I was like ‘I want to do that. I want to change lives in that sense,’” says the honor student who plans to become an anesthesiologist. During the time between his diagnosis  — neuroendocrine tumors that also plague his father and brother — and his graduation, Jackson says he’s grown more confident in managing his health and in setting an example for his peers.

“I was pretty nervous coming in, being out on my own, dealing with my health issues. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have some flare-up and get really sick and have to go home,” said Jackson, who is from Rutherford County, some two hours from the University. Already knowing his family was cheering him on, he found additional support at Wingate.

“With most of my more vigorous classes, I let my professors know upfront that this is something that I am dealing with to let them know that I might wake up one day not feeling the best or I might have a medical appointment that I have to leave for. They’ve all been very understanding,” he said. “I’ve become more independent. I’ve been scheduling my doctor appointments on my own, keeping track of my health on my own. I’ve been working out a lot and not letting my diagnosis get the best of me.”

That diagnosis, the subject of numerous media reports after WBTV news anchor Molly Grantham shared his family’s story, was no secret when he got to Wingate.

“At first it was a little overwhelming having my story out there, but I took it and I ran with it,” Jackson says. “Freshman year, a lot of people would ask me, ‘Hey are you the kid that we saw?’ It gave me a chance to tell my story and be a role model for students, to say, ‘I’ve been through this and I am still getting through this, and I am still doing this college thing.’ My biggest goal was to show that if I can do this anybody can do it.”

As for still “getting through this,” Jackson is scheduled for several annual scans and procedures in July. Doctors are monitoring several spots on his pancreas that are new, but small, and a non-malignant tumor in his brain. He is taking it in stride. 

A self-described science nerd, Jackson says his time as a biology major and the research on cancer he has done at Wingate have changed the tenor of his medical appointments. 

“A big thing that has changed since I’ve been in college is now when I am at my appointments, I ask more questions. Whereas it used to be my parents took in all the information and understood it. Now I am making sure that I understand it,” Jackson says. He was able to present research he completed as part of the Honors Program at Wingate’s Wellspring Symposium last month.

“It was a phenomenal opportunity. It was great to be able to, once again, kind of tell my story and then tell the science behind it,” he says.

Jackson has applied to the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine’s post-baccalaureate program, a one-year master’s program that serves as a bridge to medical school.

Learn more about studying biology at Wingate or about Wingate’s relationship with VCOM. And check out this weekend’s Commencement schedule.

May 14, 2021

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