Culverhouse Student, Brain Cancer Survivor is Grateful for a New Path


Christmas morning, 2021, Culverhouse College of Business freshman Sarah Cosner woke up, not at her parents’ home in Sebastian, Florida, but in the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, almost 200 miles away. She had never heard of the Mayo Clinic prior to her visit, but she was two days away from a surgical procedure to remove an anaplastic ependymoma.

In plain English? Cosner was there to have a brain tumor removed.

The doctors at the Mayo Clinic successfully removed the tumor, but Cosner’s journey didn’t stop there. What followed was six and a half weeks of radiation therapy, which caused her to miss most of her spring term at The University of Alabama. Instead, she kept up with her studies online, and returned to campus for the final six weeks of the semester.

The Mayo Clinic experience sparked something in Cosner. “I had always thought I don’t want to go to med school,” she explained. “I don’t think I can handle the blood and surgery and all of that stuff.” Fortunately, Culverhouse offered her a way to contribute to the medical field without becoming a doctor. Cosner decided to major in management with a concentration in healthcare analytics.

Last summer, she returned to the Mayo Clinic. But this time, instead of arriving as a patient, Cosner arrived as an intern. She worked under Operations Manager Spencer Twigg, himself a 2015 Culverhouse graduate who reports to Associate Administrator Caroline Sarratt Russell, also a 2009 Culverhouse graduate. “It brings me such joy to see the different ‘generations’ of UA students mentoring one another!” said Dr. Marilyn Whitman, who taught Sarratt Russell and oversaw Cosner’s internship.

Cosner rotated to different departments. She visited the operating room and witnessed a heart transplant, and helped anesthesia technicians put together circuits, which are tubes attached to breathing masks used for delivering anesthetic gases to a patient. She evaluated an indication list, figuring out which conditions should be prioritized in scheduling for the ophthalmology clinic. And she journaled the entire time for Whitman. “Each week’s journal entry would top the one before it! This experience was truly remarkable and transformative. Sarah emerged stronger, more passionate, and excited about her future,” Whitman said.

Today, Cosner’s cancer is in complete remission. She receives MRIs every three to four months, but the worst is behind her. Now she can focus on the future. As a Blount scholar and third-year senior at Culverhouse, she looks forward to a career in hospital administration.

And she credits her cancer with putting her on that path. “In a way,” she said, “I’m kind of grateful for it.”

“To be able to work and make another person’s life better in the hardest time in their life, I think that’s great,” Cosner went on. “And what I’ve learned this summer is all the departments in a hospital are interconnected. So whether you’re working in food service, campus operations, administration, everything contributes to that mission of helping the patient.”

“So even if I’m not on the front lines, like in the OR, I know that I’m making a difference. And I think that’s the thing that excites me the most.”

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