Brittany Avin McKelvey was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 13 years old, and went through eight years of treatment and intensive follow-up care. It was a tough and lonely time that she did not want other young people to go through. So she made fighting cancer her life’s mission.
“Going through cancer as a teenager, when you are trying to form your identity and who you are, really had a lasting impact on me,” McKelvey says. “So, I made it my mission to fight cancer from all angles.” Now, not only is McKelvey a Ph.D. student studying thyroid cancer in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology Graduate Program, but she also dedicates her extra time to supporting both cancer patients and cancer survivors, as well as advocating for research and policy changes.
Originally from Greenville, North Carolina, McKelvey began volunteering at the Ulman Foundation, an organization dedicated to creating a community of support for young adults and their loved ones impacted by cancer, when she came to Baltimore over four years ago.
“I think especially as a teenager, there comes another layer of isolation from not having full peer support because your peers do not fully understand what you are going through,” McKelvey says.
She received treatment and follow-up care hundreds of miles away in New York, missing weeks of classes. When she returned to school, she worried her only identity was the cancer girl. While she had the support of her parents, church and family members, there were not others her age with whom she could confide her thoughts, fears and hopes.
McKelvey shares her experiences with cancer patients, lends an ear, and prepares and serves them meals.
She works with several organizations, such as the American Cancer Society’s advocacy arm: the Cancer Action Network, National Cancer Institute and Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, advocating for improved research processes, funding for early detection screening and other needs.
“For me to hopefully serve as a resource who can relate to what patients are going through is very fulfilling, because I would not want anyone to feel the loneliness that I experienced.,” she says.