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Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Graduating senior fought cancer through swimming
Elizabeth Mancuso, who goes by Liz, was more or less a typical first-year student four years ago. Recruited to the Dartmouth swim team, the Andover, Mass. native chose Dartmouth, in part, for its New England location and proximity to her family, to whom she is very close.
Shortly before she began her first year, she developed hives that were at first attributed to allergies, and later to what doctors thought was a benign growth on the right side of her thyroid gland. The thyroid, which is located in the neck, is an endocrine gland which controls how quickly the body burns energy, makes proteins, and how sensitive the body should be to other hormones. When doctors removed the right thyroid, they discovered that Mancuso was, in fact, suffering from cancer and that her entire thyroid would have to be removed. Finding out she had cancer, she said was "pure shock. It feels like your whole life stops."
"My mom was actually going in for thyroid surgery, for a different reason, and she gave up her spot with the surgeon so that I could go in and have my left thyroid removed, so that I could go back to school on time in the fall," explained Mancuso. "My mom is my best friend."
After that second surgery in the summer of 2005, Mancuso went through radioactive iodine treatment, which required her to cut iodine entirely from her diet. "It was a very bland diet," said Mancuso, "as a swimmer, I could always eat whatever I wanted, and on the diet, you have to monitor what you eat. My whole family went on the diet with me, which was extremely helpful. I don't think I could have done it without them."
Mancuso finished her treatment regimen just one week before her sophomore year was to begin. She considered using the flexibility of Dartmouth's "D Plan" curricular schedule to stay home during the fall term. "I was petrified—I knew I wasn't in shape to swim, and I didn't feel like I'd had a summer to relax. Then I realized that I had this amazing support network at school, and instead of sitting at home and feeling sorry for myself, I needed to go to my friends, go to my coach, and rely on them to help me get back on track. And I think Dartmouth's great—it's something you want to come back to."
As a swimmer in excellent physical condition, Mancuso had an advantage in her ability to recover from the physical toll surgery had taken, but getting back in shape that term was "grueling." Although she was restricted from some strength training because of the effects of the surgery, she went directly back to swimming with her team during that term, a demanding schedule that required her to put in a minimum of 20 hours of practice every week. "I think having cancer really made me realize how important swimming is, and in a way it revived my love for the sport," she said. "It gave me something to prove to myself that I could come back and persevere."
Using the flexibility of the D Plan, Mancuso took off her sophomore spring term in order to take a battery of follow-up tests to be sure that the cancer had not returned. She was also able to use that time to train with a swimming coach who, she says, helped her improve immensely in her events, the 100 and 200 meter butterfly and the 200 and 400 meter individual medley.
Now, three years later, Mancuso has made a full recovery, and has gone on to set Dartmouth swimming records, including in the 200 IM. This year, she was awarded the Kenneth Archibald Prize, the highest honor that Dartmouth awards to an athlete.
After graduation, Mancuso, a psychology major, will be a clinical research coordinator at Mass General Hospital in Cambridge where she will conduct clinical trials with children who have obsessive-compulsive disorder. She looks forward to doing graduate work in psychology.
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