Irene Dimatulac learned of the tumor in her left leg in a TC stairwell conversation with the doctor who'd rung her cell phone five times in the middle of a Speech-Language Pathology class.
Two years later, Dimatulac (M.A. ’22, Communication Sciences and Disorders) has tackled both cancer and grad school, and will celebrate these victories alongside her classmates this May at the College’s first in-person Convocation ceremonies since 2019.
For Dimatulac — who returned to classes virtually after 11 months of chemotherapy, a prosthetic knee and extensive physical therapy — the moment is particularly meaningful. “I can’t wait until my parents see me walk on my own two legs across the stage at graduation,” Dimatulac remarked earlier this year.
But this triumph will propel Dimatulac into the next phase of her career; her own experience, she says, offered a renewed sense of purpose in the pursuit of a future helping patients rehabilitate the loss of speech as a result of an illness or accident.
“[Cancer] is a powerful empathy tool,” says Dimatulac. “I know what it is like to have a trajectory in life that goes where you didn't expect it to go.”
Following a challenging, yet “gratifying” semester, Dimatulac is posed to travel throughout Asia this summer while pursuing opportunities as a Speech-Language Pathologist in New York.
“The experiences I’ve had this semester have shown me how well prepared I am beyond graduation, and it’s also highlighted the skills and unique flair I bring to the table,” says the Brooklyn local, who has found common ground with her teenage patients through a mutual interest in anime.
Looking forward also coincides with looking back at her time at the College — which included a pandemic, and her classmates and faculty members rallying around Dimatulac with a GoFundMe account to help alleviate her expenses while undergoing care at Memorial Sloan Kettering.
“I’m very fortunate to be part of a TC program filled with experienced and compassionate clinicians — compassion not only for our patients but for the students as well,” she says.
Dimatulac’s support system at TC is vast, but for the grad, two faculty and staff members stand out: Erika Levy, Associate Professor in Communications Sciences & Disorders, and Bernadine Gagnon, Assistant Director of the Edward D. Mysak Clinic for Communication Disorders.
“While I was in cancer treatment and on hiatus from school, Dr. Levy embodied the assurance of a warm welcome upon my certain return to school,” the grad explained. “Bernadine, as well, has been impactful to my growth over the past year as an invaluable mentor. With her guidance, she helped me transform the fresh experience of my own hospitalization into a unique bridge into understanding and connecting with the people I’ve worked with.”
In moving forward after graduate school, Dimatulac’s love of rock climbing continues to serve as an appropriate metaphor in the next phase of challenges. “Doing everything right allowed me to melt into the situation and enjoy the moment,” Dimatulac said upon her return to campus in the fall. “I am keeping my eyes forward.”