I HAD to Graduate

Eight months of chemotherapy. Eight months living in a hotel. An invasive total hip arthroplasty to remove a tumor and save his leg. A month of radiation treatments.

That was what Dominic Gentile endured while undergoing treatment after being diagnosed with metastatic Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.

“Outside of all of the obvious things that come along with a cancer diagnosis – the mental, emotional and physical strain – I had to withdraw from school to focus on my health and treatment,” Gentile said.

Those eight months came just as Gentile was beginning his fourth year in veterinary school at Iowa State University. Just as he was close to realizing his dream of becoming a veterinarian, he had to put his education on hold.

That meant not graduating with his class last May.

Despite all that he was going through, Gentile was committed to graduate. It’s a goal he has realized.

“I HAD to graduate,” he said. “I had worked so hard for so long and nothing, not even cancer was going to stand in my way.”

Through those eight months of treatment, Gentile continued to study. He went over his old class notes, re-read textbooks, checked out the latest journals. It became important to continue to immerse himself in the material but also to have something to focus on instead of his illness.

“It wasn’t like I was studying every day,” he said “Chemo made concentrating for long periods of time tough, it made recalling information challenging at times and it made me just overall fuzzy.

“But when I felt good or just to pass time when I was admitted to the hospital for my infusions I would study little by little trying to stay fresh with the material.”

Prognosis for metastatic Ewing’s Sarcoma is typically very poor. Gentile defied the odds and was cancer free in March 2020. But because he had withdrawn from his fourth year, he wasn’t able to graduate with his class last May.

That was devastating for the New Jersey native.

“I was heartbroken that I wasn’t able to continue with my class,” he said. “I wouldn’t get to graduate with my classmates. I wouldn’t get to start working. And I had to watch my classmates achieve their dreams as I was fighting for my life.

“Don’t get me wrong, I was beyond happy for and proud of them, but it still hurt nonetheless.”

Cancer free, Gentile rejoined Iowa State’s veterinary program last May. He started studying for the NAVLE. He continued with clinical rotations.

He had to make some adjustments in clinical rotations. His treatment included a new hip and he didn’t have the mobility or strength in the leg as he was used to. Restraining big dogs or lifting them up on the exam table were much more difficult.

In the back of his mind there was always that lingering fear. What if the cancer returned? Every pain and twinge in his body sacred him. The combined burdens of his health concerns and being a fourth-year vet student weighed on him.

Then this past November, bad news. The cancer had returned with more lesions in a number of different bones, including lesions on his skull.

“Recurrence with any cancer isn’t good, but with Ewing’s it’s particularly bad,” Gentile said.

Additional chemotherapy followed. This time Gentile was doing his rotations in an online format as he worked hard to finish his degree. He transferred his medical care back to Philadelphia where he is closer to his family and friends in New Jersey.

Gentile’s hard work and dedication to earn his degree came about earlier this semester when he completed the number of clinical credits required. His determination of “I HAD to graduate” became a reality.

The College of Veterinary Medicine will make Gentile’s graduation more than just receiving a diploma. A group of faculty led by Dean Dan Grooms will travel to New Jersey on March 6 for a special graduation ceremony for Gentile and his family.

“I’m still not over the shock that the college is coming out to New Jersey to give me an official graduation ceremony,” he said. “I don’t think I was ever more humbled and honored than in that moment when they insisted on doing this for me.

“My goal while at Iowa State was to always be a determined student, reliable friend and colleague, an example of what ISU CVM looks for in a vet student. I supposed with their insistence on doing this ceremony I must have made an impression on folks in my time there.”

February 2021