Cancer Became a Divining Rod for Campbell Student

This news story was originally published on June 17, 2010 by Campbell University. Reprinted with permission

Buies Creek, N.C. - For most freshmen, college holds the promise of developing life-long friendships, a taste of independence and academic preparation for future careers. For Matthew Rollins, it also offers the opportunity to fight a familiar enemy – cancer.

An incoming Campbell University freshman, Rollins was diagnosed with cancer in 2004 when he was just 12 years old. Suddenly, he went from happy, well-adjusted middle school student to cancer patient overnight. Although traumatic, the illness led Rollins to make one of the most important decisions of his life, to become a pediatric oncologist like the ones who treated him at the University of North Carolina Hospital at Chapel Hill. He is eager to get to Campbell and begin his science education this fall.

“Being diagnosed with cancer at an early stage in life truly altered my entire life,” said Rollins. “Before I was diagnosed, I really had no plans for my future, and I was unaware of the options that were out there. Cancer is what pointed me toward what I want to do with my life. I feel that I should spend it working to treat children diagnosed with cancer just like I was treated as a child.”

Rollins’ ordeal began one morning when he was brushing his teeth and found a lose tooth. The tooth in itself was no cause for alarm, but a trip to the dentist revealed something more serious. A cyst was pushing Rollins’ tooth out of alignment. Tests determined the cyst to be malignant and Rollins was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a rare form of cancer which is part of a group of malignant diseases known as Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphomas. The malignancy grows very rapidly and a person who appears to be in good health could become critically ill within a month to six weeks.

But Rollins was lucky. He was referred to the University of North Carolina Hospital at Chapel Hill and began chemotherapy treatments within a week of his diagnosis. And even though he spent six months in and out of the Children’s Pediatric Unit, doctors say he is cancer free. The care and compassion displayed by his doctors and nurses left a lasting impression on Rollins, however.

“Defeating cancer made me realize that I was strong enough to do anything I set my mind to,” Rollins said. “Keeping a positive attitude was very tough to do, but I knew it was the only way to make it through such a tough time.”

Rollins took steps toward a career in medicine while still in high school. He was involved with Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), a pipeline organization that prepares students for health care careers, and he enrolled in Allied Health Sciences II, a class that allows students to become certified nursing assistants upon completion of the course.

“As a motivated individual with a passion for serving others, I plan to employ my education at Campbell for the public good,” Rollins said. “There’s a growing need for healthcare workers, and I feel that becoming a doctor would be the best way to serve a vast amount of people while also doing something that I thoroughly enjoy.”

A resident of Asheboro, N.C., Rollins graduated from Southwestern Randolph High School. In 2008, he was nominated by his school counselors to attend the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine in Washington, D.C. He was also selected to attend the HOSA National Leadership Conference in Nashville, Tenn. Rollins served as the secretary for the North Carolina HOSA District 5 and Central Region during his high school career. He is the son of Jeff and Jody Rollins.