Alexandra Mercorelli of North Canton, Ohio, proved the power of perseverance through her graduation from Ohio Northern University this spring. She also earned a prestigious Dorothy Morrison Memorial Scholarship from Alpha Mu Tau fraternity, which advances professionals in the clinical laboratory sciences, for graduate study.

Mercorelli, a North Canton High School graduate, earned a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory science after sitting out much of the previous year for surgery and rehabilitation to have a cancerous tumor removed from under her shoulder blade.

“The first symptoms that something was wrong was when I started losing feeling in my arm in January 2017, around my 21st birthday,” Mercorelli said. “My first thought is I would not be able to finish what I started.”

The ordeal was devastating at first.

“At the time, I had just gotten accepted for an internship with the West Central Ohio Medical Laboratory Science program (WCOMLS), everything was moving forward, my life seemed planned out, and life was good. Then, suddenly, I was not even sure when my life would end,” she said. “My dream of graduating from ONU, which was my favorite school from the start, was crushed, and I went into a deep hole.”

Putting her promising future on hold was frustrating, to say the least.

“It was difficult to watch people I had been classmates with for three years graduate, and I knew I had to battle with cancer,” she said.

Steadily, and with the support of others, Mercorelli, dug out of that hole.

“My mom (Jeanne Mercorelli) encouraged me and let me know I could still realize my dreams and have a future and a nice life. With the surgery, I would not lose my arm and would be able to perform the tasks I needed in my field,” Mercorelli said.

“Also, during the time leading up to the surgery and through the rehabilitation, Dr. (Lisa) Walden stayed in constant contact with me. She let me know she would save my spot in the program for me when I returned and was always encouraging. That meant a lot.”

“Every spring, I host a graduation celebration for students who complete the WCOMLS program and ask a student whom I feel has grown the most throughout the year-long experience to give a speech,” said Walden, who is clinical assistant professor and director of the Medical Laboratory Science Program at ONU. “This year’s choice was easy: Alexandra. She gave a very moving and motivating speech, and I was fighting back tears. The pride I felt was for Alexandra. More than any student I have worked with during my 20 years in higher education, she has made the most of her college experience, while enduring the life-changing ordeal of cancer.”

Mercorelli not only graduated from ONU, but her future also is especially bright. She has been diagnosed as cancer-free during her one-year checkup, and she is beginning her career with Summa Health in Akron, Ohio.

The situation has changed her perspective and has also better prepared Mercorelli for her professional aspirations.

“I used to think I was invincible. Now, I realize that life is relatively short. My motto is to keep moving forward and take life one day at a time,” she said “It has also helped me understand that what we are doing in medical labs has meaning. We are dealing with actual patients, and our work helps people live full, healthy lives.”

Mercorelli is a stronger person from the experience.

“I realize that life is not ideal, and we will face obstacles along the way. I also am confident that, when faced with hard times in life, I know I can overcome that adversity.”