By Bradley Heidrich
In 1994, I was an active 13-year-old who participated in baseball, football, basketball, skiing, fishing, and hanging out with my friends. That October, I was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a rare form of childhood bone cancer. My treatments consisted of a combination of different chemotherapies, multiple surgeries, including a limb salvage procedure that removed nearly half of my femur and total right knee, and extensive rehabilitation. Today, I am more than 20 years cancer-free.
When I tell people that I had childhood cancer, many people offer support and say that it must have been difficult. Most of those people are shocked when I tell them that conquering cancer was actually an amazing experience. As a cancer patient and survivor, those experiences forever shaped my life. I am thankful and appreciate every day and every moment.
During my treatment, the personal care and dedication of so many amazing nurses, doctors, and social workers at Penn State Children’s Hospital affected my survivorship and provided positive influences in my life. As a teenager who struggled with this disease, I frequently asked why I got cancer. That question guided my educational studies and helped shape my career, as I knew I wanted to help cancer patients.
Following high school, I went on to Penn State. There I earned my bachelor’s degree in biology, as well as two separate master‘s degrees in biotechnology and business management (MBA). After graduate school, I worked as a scientist for a large pharmaceutical company in Philadelphia in its oncology drug discovery organization. For more than 10 years, I've worked as a scientist in oncology drug discovery as a biology co-leader, developing new therapies for hematological malignancies (blood cancers).
In my work as a cancer scientist, I have the unique perspective of being a cancer patient and a survivor. This unique experience guides my research and motivates me every day to make meaningful strides against cancer.
My personal drive has led me to return to graduate school, where I am now pursuing a PhD in cell and molecular biology, while still working as a cancer scientist. I have volunteered with Four Diamonds, speaking at events to raise money for childhood cancer patients and their families. My hope is that my research and volunteering has positive and lasting effects for cancer patients and survivors.
I continue to cherish my greatest gifts and joys in life as a cancer survivor, being a devoted husband to my remarkable wife, and a loving father to my two amazing young children.