A Dream Come True

Cancer Diagnosis Changes the Course of One Boy’s Life

Matthew RamirezAt 13, Matthew knew exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up: Help kids like him overcome cancer.

Now a third-year fellow at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Matthew Ramirez, M.D., has stayed true to his dream.

“I thought sharing my experience as a cancer survivor would be one way of giving my patients hope,” he said, “and perhaps empathizing with them as other oncologists couldn’t.”

Inspired to Help Others

Diagnosed with a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, 13-year-old Matthew endured months of chemotherapy that caused him to lose his hair and miss school. It was a tough time for his entire family, but the experience changed Matthew’s life for the better.

Inspired by his own oncologist, Matthew transferred to a new school district so he could attend a medical magnet high school, which allowed him to participate in hospital rotations and see first-hand what hematologists and oncologists do each day.

Matthew progressed through college, medical school and residency, all with the goal of saving lives as a pediatric hematologist/oncologist.

Caring For the Whole Family

At Children’s, Dr. Ramirez relies on his own experiences as both a cancer patient and survivor to ensure the kids he sees each day feel safe and comfortable. Developing a bond with the children and their families is a critical part of his mission.

"I thought, 'When I’m a doctor, I’m going to take time to get to know my patients,'" he said. "I try to give all my patients that same dedication."

Dr. Ramirez’s unique perspective allows him to have a greater degree of understanding for all involved. Remembering the families’ needs—whether that means inquiring about school or connecting them with services—can go a long way.

"It’s important to take the time to let the family know we're interested in more than just treating the disease," Dr. Ramirez said. "We're worried about the educational, emotional and social impact of the disease on each patient."

Looking to the Future

Matthew RamirezDr. Ramirez is focused on educating his patients about survivorship care, something he, himself, didn’t learn about until he was an adult.

It is critical for cancer survivors to continue to monitor their health after treatment ends, remaining vigilant for side effects that might occur years down the road.

Dr. Ramirez is passionate about helping kids in the Survivor Clinic at Children’s. He often sees patients who are the same age he was when he was going through treatment. In addition to educating them about their conditions and treatments, he tells them they have their entire lives ahead of them to grow and become the people they’re meant to be—just like him.

"Childhood cancer survivors should be empowered," he said. "Surviving is the rest of your life."