UCSB student Mohammad Ameen, far left, is now happily focused on his future after a childhood bout with cancer. | Credit: Courtesy

Acceptance to the University of California, Santa Barbara, is already a feat in and of itself, but doing so as a childhood cancer survivor seems unimaginable. This is what sets Mohammad Ameen — diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 2 years old and now a student at UCSB — apart.

This was normal to him. “For any other average kid, it would be unusual, but for me, that was the only thing [I knew] … as I grew up, I realized this was going to be part of my life.”

Through it all, Ameen just wanted to go to school, and as his hospital visits began to occur at larger intervals, he decided to jump right in.

“I just wanted to go to school, because being in the hospital gets lonely. Even though they said school wasn’t necessary at the time, for me personally, it helped me to know that I could still be part of the everyday school routine.”

As a child, Mohammad Ameen spent much of his life in the cancer unit of Texas Children’s Hospital. | Credit: Courtesy

Growing up, Ameen lived two completely different lives — one spent in the classroom and the other in the cancer unit of Texas Children’s Hospital.

“Continuous visits to the hospital, multiple treatments, a majority [of my life] from age 2 to 10 was spent in and out of the hospital … [with the] majority of the staff of Texas Children’s Hospital I trusted dearly, and I appreciated all their help since I got diagnosed. I’ve been going there since age 2. They still support me to this day.”

He was able to keep some aspects of his life relatively “normal,” and that mindset led him to where he is now — studying actuarial science at UCSB in the hopes of eventually giving back to those who’ve helped him.

“One specific goal I have is to replicate the scholarship program Northwestern Mutual has or support it with donations somehow. The main goal would be just to continue their mission to help students like me pay for school and have a brighter future.”

I asked if essentially growing up in a hospital had an influence on his major and school, because I’ve heard doctors say they went into the medical field because of traumas they went through as a child, but Ameen is different.

“At the beginning, when I used to spend so much time in the hospital, they always used to try to nudge me to go in the direction of the medical field. I chose to do something close to it —  involving insurance and all those kinds of fields. My goal is to eventually help students like someone in my condition with similar scholarships. I wouldn’t say it influenced my college and major decisions, but I think it supported it in a way.”

Ameen still visits the doctors that ensured he would be granted this chance at UCSB and expressed his gratitude for them and their care in his years at Texas Children’s Hospital. In describing those relationships, he used the word “get.”

“I get to see them almost every year and [revisit] all the memories of spending time there,” he said. He especially remembers the room where you could play video games after undergoing a chemotherapy session.

Now, with the worst of his visits in his rearview, Ameen has focused on the future. As a rising senior, he applied to grants, eventually landing on the Northwestern Mutual Foundation, where he was awarded $10,000 in scholarship funds, after having to write an essay on his experience and giving background details on his unusual circumstances growing up. He now renews this scholarship every year.

“It gives me a sense of relief. It’s helping me pay for school, especially since I’m from out of state. It also motivates me to do better knowing that someone is supporting me in that kind of way.”

The last thing I asked was his advice to families and patients that are now going through what he went through. Ameen offered, “Have faith. Doctors and family members will be the most trustworthy people at the time. Take advantage of the support you receive from them. It’s going to be a big journey, so be prepared and stay calm with anything that happens.”


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