Everything that matters in Jenny Marshall’s life comes together inside a chemistry lab.
Her brain is hard wired for science, and research makes her bend her mind to look at things in new ways.
“You have to problem solve and picture in your mind how molecules will react,” says Marshall, a junior. “I like that about chemistry.”
Her heart, though, is wired for something else.
It wants to save people. Brave people who are fighting a disease that’s tried to shake the foundation of Marshall’s family too many times.
Inside the lab, her head and heart join forces to help beat something that’s taken so much from so many.
Marshall is from Frederick, Maryland. She heard about High Point University from her high school soccer teammates when she was looking to play at a college level.
At the same time, her grandfather, William, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
It hit Marshall hard. The two were close, and his battle was in some ways triumphant – after chemotherapy, the cancer went into remission. But the treatment took a toll on his overall health, and he never seemed to fully recover. He passed away soon after from other health complications.
Marshall tried to move on from her grief as the next chapter in her life began. She ventured to High Point University nearly two years after his diagnosis to join the women’s soccer team.
In her first year on campus, she became connected and involved and felt like she was growing as a person. But shortly after, her family was dealt another blow. Her cousin, Sarah – just a few years older than Marshall – was diagnosed with lymphoma as her grandfather had been.
Marshall made trips home to support Sarah between soccer games, tests and activities on campus. But emotions were heavy, and time spent together always seemed too short.
Sometimes she focused on school work to take her mind off challenges back home. That’s when she learned to channel grief into something greater. She had always wanted a career in the sciences, so she began to explore opportunities in her field to fight the disease.
“If there’s a way to cure cancer without weakening a person’s immune system, that’s what I want to find,” Marshall says. “My grandfather and my cousin were the two most positive people I knew, but the treatment took so much out of them.”
The Rigorous Road of Research
It’s no easy feat to land an internship at the National Cancer Institute after your first year of college. But Marshall did.
That summer, she conducted experiments at NCI in her hometown of Frederick. She learned what lab work was like and gained valuable skills in the process. She also discovered that while trial and error are a major part of research, overcoming the obstacles it presents is not only inevitable, but the key to success.
Regardless of the outcome, the successes and shortcomings were equally important. Like the Thomas Edison quote, which Marshall reminds herself of often.
“I haven’t failed,” the famed inventor said. “I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
“All research has applications to it,” Marshall says. “I’ve learned that if I can acquire information through research, even if that particular research project was unsuccessful, it can benefit other researchers and eventually help lead the scientific community to an answer.”
At HPU, Marshall began to work alongside Dr. Andrew Wommack, assistant professor of chemistry, researching a variety of topics that spanned from ALS therapeutics to a more recent study of osteocalcin and its correlation with bone diseases.
The experience she gained from her classes and Wommack’s mentorship helped her secure the NCI internship for a second summer after her sophomore year. That’s when she began to focus on experiments related to cancer studies.
“I like the research I’m doing,” she says. “I’m learning a lot and being challenged, which I’m really excited about. Everything I’ve learned as a chemistry major at HPU has helped me with my research and internship. All of the material covered in my organic chemistry class was particularly applicable over the summer at NCI.”
Today, Marshall is a junior, the captain of the women’s soccer team, and a stellar student inside and outside of the lab who has blossomed at HPU and learned to push forward in the face of adversity. She minors in marketing, which has taught her to articulate sometimes complicated topics of cancer research in an effective way. And she has her eyes set on another opportunity with the NCI next summer.
She led her team to victory on Oct. 3 at their annual Pink Night where they celebrated those who faced the battle of cancer. For Marshall, that included her grandpa and her cousin.
Sarah is now cancer free.
But Marshall is still fighting. Her approach on the field is the same as in the lab – relentless and tireless, even when the weight of the world tries to wear her down.
Her grandpa and Sarah didn’t give up, even when they were in the fight of their lives. Like the time during her freshman year when Marshall took a Greyhound bus home and arrived at 4:15 a.m., just so she could spend time with her cousin and family.
She told Sarah not to come to the bus station that night – it was too late for her to be out of bed, and someone else from the family could pick her up instead.
But when Marshall opened the car door, Sarah was sitting in the passenger seat, grinning at her.
“There she was in the car to pick me up even though she was fighting cancer,” Marshall says. “Who is more selfless than that?”
So Marshall steers her mind toward the lab. It takes intelligence, persistence and laser focus. It’s the brain part.
But she has her heart to keep her going when the experiments don’t work or progress slows. A heart that’s filled with love for people who are fighting.
In the end, she knows the scientists who find the key to kick cancer will need both to get them there.