Presidential Scholar renews focus on studies after beating cancer

by Jeff Samoray, Published January 11, 2012

YPSLANTI - Joe Eilerman, a 20-year-old International Business major with a focus on Supply Chain Management, says he had a midlife crisis at age 18.

Shortly after graduating high school, doctors diagnosed Eilerman with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer that affects the body's immune system.

"It seemed like mono at first, but I also found a lump under my chin," he says. "In August, I had surgery to remove the lump. Three days later, I had my high school graduation party. Three days after that, I learned I had cancer."

Eilerman, a native of Cincinnati, played track and football and was a state medal-winning swimmer. He earned a competitive four-year Presidential Scholarship from Eastern and had a spot reserved on the men's swimming team. Suddenly, his plans were put on hold.

"The odds for survival were one in four," says Eilerman, who immediately began treatment in Ohio. "I told my parents to pray for the other three, because I was determined to make it."

Eilerman had eight rounds of intense chemotherapy followed by five bone marrow biopsies. "It was hard to watch all my friends go off to school while I was sitting at home literally doing nothing," he says. By December, PT scans showed he was cancer-free.

"My oncologist said I could cancel the scheduled radiation treatments," he says. "My last chemotherapy was on December 20, 2010-that was a heck of a Christmas gift."

With a renewed sense of purpose and a Presidential Scholarship awaiting him, Eilerman entered EMU in the Winter 2011 semester as an Honor's College student. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury forced him to leave the swimming team.

"My experience with cancer changed my priorities," he says. "I don't sweat the small stuff anymore."

Eilerman's goals are to get an internship with the State Department and work for a government agency. To catch up on his academic timeline, he took classes through the spring, summer and fall semesters.

"Eastern has been great," he says. "The professors care about who you are and want to know how you're doing. I've also received a lot of support from Becky Sipe, who directs the Honor's College."

"Joe has enormous energy, dedication and potential," Sipe says. "I've encouraged him to think about how he wants to focus his life and to pursue studies that will take him there. I admire his strong values and the very mature way he's handled challenges. I expect great things from Joe in the future."

For now, Eilerman is maximizing his Eastern experience by soaking in everything it has to offer.

"In just a short time, I've made an incredible number of true friends," he says. "And the amount of knowledge passed on to students is incredible. You can show up and sit in the back of the class and get a grade, or you can become active and get more out of it. The day I went into remission was like a second birthday. I realized I only have one life to live, and I'm going to make the most of it."


Geoff Larcom


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