When Luke James Weaver begins his pediatric residency next month in St. Louis, he’ll bring an unusual level of understanding to treating his young patients.
It will be more than just the years that Weaver put in studying osteopathic medicine at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. He will know the journey that his young patients will endure each day. Their fears, their confusion and their anxieties.
Weaver, who is among 343 medical students who graduated Saturday, is a two-time cancer survivor.
The 26-year-old Belleville, Ill., native plans to specialize in hematology/oncology. His desire to treat others facing the disease was born out of his own struggle.
“It is a feeling of finally finishing a goal, realizing an accomplishment that I have set and something that I wanted to achieve, having everything come full circle,” Weaver said.
Growing up across the river from St. Louis, Weaver said he always had plans to become a doctor. He considered the fields of brain surgery and heart surgery.
“I had grander thoughts of what a physician was like,” he said.
But life took a dramatic turn in July 2005.
That’s when Weaver was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia, a bone marrow disease. He underwent chemotherapy. It was during those treatments in March 2008 that Weaver’s doctors found a second cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Weaver began intense treatment. His desire to become a physician didn’t change, but his perspective did.
“I started to realize that there was more to medicine and a lot more to becoming a physician than what we saw on television, or a well child going to see your doctor once or twice a year,” he said.
Weaver started his studies at KCU in 2012. He had previously earned an undergraduate degree from Quincy University in Quincy, Ill.
“When I was going through all of that (cancer treatment), one thing that kept me going through my fight was seeing the other kids around me going through the same struggle and going through the same disease process and doing it with an absolute aura of innocence and bravery,” Weaver said. “And that was truly inspiring to me.”
Weaver’s residency is at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, the same hospital where he received his cancer treatments.
“Everybody’s struggle is different, but I can help them understand that I had the same fears that they have,” he said. “I can hopefully calm them and help them through that.”
It is now Weaver’s turn to inspire others, said Marc Hahn, president of KCU.
“I’ve certainly seen medical students who have been through a lot,” Hahn said. “Probably no one who has been through more than Luke, having two separate cancers. We have seen serious illness help students to be more caring and sensitive physicians.
“Luke’s experience as a patient and training as an osteopathic physician will give him extra sensitivity to relate to his patients as people, while medically treating their disease.”