At the age of a mere 5 or 6, Timothy Malone knew that he wanted to become a doctor when he grew up, and this did not change until his health took a turn for the worse in 2010.
16-year-old Timothy suddenly lost around 15 kilograms, which he did not think too much of as this is relatively normal for a teen getting into shape, but a sudden onset of headaches accompanied by a pale complexion and itchy skin that bled from his scratching led him to seek out a doctor who initially thought he just had allergies.
A chest x-ray however discovered something else – tumours that turned out to be Hodgkin Lymphoma, a cancer that affects the lymph system, and which turned his life upside down.
Malone said that he “wanted nothing to do with hospitals,” and just wanted to “run in the opposite direction.”
He was treated at Meridian Health’s Hackensack University Medical Center where he underwent nine months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments in 2010. Tired of the hospital and treatment regimens, even though he had a positive attitude about ridding cancer from his body, he willingly signed up for clinical trials and new drug combinations, anything that was available to treat his disease.
“Whatever God has in store for me, it must be some reason why he gave it to me to overcome,” he said.
With a new outlook, Malone returned to high school after he was cancer free. He focused on perfecting his percussion skills as the drum line captain in the high school band. Instead of becoming a physician, Malone figured he’d be a music teacher, or so he thought when he majored in music education at William Paterson University.
Malone stayed in touch with the medical centre through the Tomorrow Children’s Fund, a program started by parents to help their children and others like them with cancer and serious blood disorders. He volunteered in fundraisers, participating with tricky trays and 5K runs. His involvement, however, didn’t lead him back to the profession, not even on follow-up visits.
But Malone missed the sciences and math classes, and traditional academia. Music was great, just not satisfying. The bug to be a doctor was surfacing, and the desire was sealed when Malone became an emergency medical technician in Mahwah.
“That steered me into medicine again,” he said. “I loved it.” His family did, too. They’ve been in the emergency services field for 50 years either as firefighters or emergency medical technicians.
Malone shadowed a physician, then sat in meeting rooms with other doctors who treated him at Hackensack UMC. On his check-up visits, he talked about his goals with Dr. Michael Harris, who is chief of the Cure and Beyond Program, for childhood cancers survivors.
Now Malone, 25, is sprinting back toward his childhood dream. He’s a first-year medical student in Grenada at St. George’s University, which has a teaching partnership with the Bergen County hospital that helped him beat cancer.
Harris said Malone is an intelligent young man with compassion and empathy, character traits that that will help him treat patients.
“I think the experience of going through Hodgkins gives him a unique perspective on what patients go through,” Harris said. “He wants to learn what it is to be a doctor, and (will) continue to go into that direction, but will always be a physician I believe, who will do good by his patients.”
In January, Malone started medical school on a full-tuition City Doctors scholarship that he received from St. George’s University on behalf of Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center.
Malone will spend two years in Grenada, then return to HackensackUMC, where he’ll train to see what area of medicine he would like to pursue. He’ll do rotations in different specialties from internal medicine and surgery, paediatrics and psychiatry, obstetrics and family practice. Malone would love to practice paediatric oncology, considering his personal experience with cancer.
After the rotational tour, his residency follows for another two years. That assignment, ironically, could be at HackensackUMC if he gets accepted.
There are no guarantees. Malone has to apply, but he is excited about the unique possibility. The hospital in which he was treated for cancer will teach him how to be a physician, and it could be the place where he works one day.
“It’s one thing to have a dream as a child that you want to be a doctor, but how many of them actually make that happen?” said Dr. Fred Jacobs, who is also executive vice president of St. George’s University. “When you actually see someone doing it and getting it done, it’s an inspirational story.“
The disease that made him turn away from medicine has brought him back to where he wants to be in life.
“If had to do it again, I’ll accept and beat it (cancer) again.”