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'Cancer thing' inspires AJ student to pursue medical career

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By Johnathan Ryan

KERSHAW - Surviving brain cancer can bring not only a big sense of relief, but it can also inspire one to pursue a higher calling.

For Riketa Williams, 17, a senior at Andrew Jackson High School, that has certainly been the case.

Williams will graduate with a nearly 4.0 grade point average from the school and will attend Converse College in the fall to major in biochemistry. She wants to eventually become an obstetrician/gynecologist.

While that road will be challenging, Williams is no stranger to a challenge. When she was 6, she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor that covered her optic nerve.

It had to be removed, but the procedure would be risky, with a chance of negative health consequences.

On the day of the surgery – Oct. 4, 1996 – Williams knew why she was at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, but didn't know she might not survive the surgery that was needed to save her life.

"But I was a strong little girl," she said.

If Williams did well within the first 24 hours after the surgery, her prognosis was

good. If not, well, that was another story.

A few hours after the surgery, Williams wouldn't respond to her nurse when she was called by name.

To prevent her from slipping into a coma, the medical personnel allowed her mother, Pamela, to call her by name.

It worked.

"I responded to my mama," Williams said, smiling.

Williams has now been cancer-free for 11 years.

"I am very thankful," she said.

But she has been in a medical setting for a good bit of her life and has established good relationships with her doctors.

That and the whole "cancer thing" caused Williams to ponder whether she should become a doctor.

"It's more than a job. It's not just something that you go in, punch a clock, get done and go home," she said.

Through the years, Williams has done well academically, not having any chronic learning problems from her brain ailment. She had an at-home tutor during the year after surgery. And due to cancer treatment, she lost a year of school.

But in middle school, Williams tested to get into the grade based on her age.

"I didn't like the fact of being held back. My goal was to get into the right grade," Williams said.

Not only did she do that, but she tested well enough to skip a grade.

Williams enjoys the sciences and calls herself a "math person." She believes most of her time in college will be spent trying to make good grades so she can get into the Medical University of South Carolina.

One reason she chose Converse College for her pre-medical studies is its track record of preparing good candidates for medical school.

"Ninety percent of the graduates from Converse who want to go to medical school get in on their first try," she said.

Paying for Converse College, an all-female school, won't be hard for Williams, as she will receive a Dean's Scholarship from the school and a LIFE Scholarship from the state. She was also awarded the first Creative Thinking Scholarship from Converse.

Williams will also have a few grants to help out.

"I'm just about set for college," she said, with a big smile.

Contact reporter Johnathan Ryan jryan@thelancasternews.com at (803) 416-8416.