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Student overcame cancer to graduate as a physician assistant
Kylie Alvarez at her white coat ceremony in 2018.

Student overcame cancer to graduate as a physician assistant

An inspiring story of faith, family, and determination

December 10, 2020 at 10:00am

Kylie Alvarez was tired of being tired.

Although she excelled in school—she got a full scholarship to FIU and graduated summa cum laude—schoolwork and everything else was exhausting.

"For years, I always wondered why I was so tired all the time," said Alvarez, a physician assistant student at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (HWCOM).

Eventually, she went to the doctor. After a series of tests, she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid does not produce enough hormones. She also had a suspicious thyroid nodule. A month before starting PA school at FIU, she had surgery to remove her thyroid. And a biopsy revealed the nodule was malignant.

"It shook my world, knowing what happened to my grandmother," said the 25-year-old who graduates from PA school this Sunday. Kylie was a toddler when her paternal grandmother died of anaplastic thyroid cancer, a rare and lethal cancer. Fortunately, Kylie was diagnosed with a different type, papillary thyroid cancer, which is more common and treatable.

She also had to undergo radioactive iodine therapy twice. And because she was literally radioactive after each treatment, she had to isolate herself for a week afterward to prevent exposing others to the radiation. It was tough juggling school and cancer.

Kylie and her family at the 2018 white coat ceremony that marked her entry into physician assistant school.


"Yes, it was hard, but sometimes the studying would actually distract me. However, if it wasn't for my faith and my family, I wouldn't have gotten through it," she said.

Kylie is also grateful for her professors, who were helpful and understanding. The PA faculty is just as complimentary about her.

"Kylie is an outstanding student and a truly kind soul and spirit. You'd never know the difficult health challenges she has endured because she radiates a positive attitude and professional demeanor with a glowing smile, every day," said Dr. Raisa Miller, director of the HWCOM Master in Physician Assistant Studies program. "We are so proud of her. She is going to be an extraordinary physician assistant."

The physician assistant class of 2020 graduates on Sunday, Dec. 13. Two days earlier, Kylie and her classmates will participate in a special ceremony to receive their first official "long" white coats. Students wear short coats. The milestone event will fall on a sad anniversary—her grandmother's death.

"I've asked my dad to do the honor of coating me, and we're going to turn it around so that we can instead remember it as a bittersweet day."

Next January, Kylie plans to take her physician assistant certification exam. A former volunteer at Nicklaus Children's Hospital, she loves working with children and may want to specialize in pediatrics. However, because of the pandemic, there are fewer available jobs.

But because of her faith and can-do attitude, Kylie refuses to dwell on the negative. And has even found a silver lining to cancer.

"If I ever encounter a patient with cancer, I can tell them I've been in your shoes. I know how you feel," she said. "So, I think this diagnosis was a blessing in disguise."