My MBA Story: From Cancer To Cornell — And A New Mission In Life

How Beating Cancer Refocused My MBA Journey — And My Career Plans

Over the last couple of years, I waged war in a brutal battle with a mutant lymphoma cancer. I was initially diagnosed in July of 2021. The way I discovered this was through a miraculous complication with my second Covid vaccine. After some mild heart issues, my EKG and subsequent scanning led my medical team to determine that I had pericarditis. But during the examination the doctors noticed a large swollen mass in my chest. The physicians informed me of the mass, but due to my naivety, I brushed it off and I believed cancer was just not a possibility for me. The doctors proceeded to schedule a PET scan for later in the week.

I was released from the hospital on a Tuesday and had my PET scan scheduled for that Friday. On what was an otherwise routine North Carolina Friday afternoon, I went to the Cancer Center for the first time. When the oncologist came into the room, the energy fell flat. He sat down and my intuition told me that this appointment was not going the way I wanted it to.

As he went through the results, my heart was beating like a timpani outside of my chest. I was taken back to the feeling when I would get in trouble for my various shenanigans during elementary and middle school. In these moments, the situation would seem so dire and the adrenaline would be so exquisitely extreme, that the situation would not even seem real. As the sweat pierced through my brow and I slumped into my chair, the oncologist candidly informed me that I had scored a Deauville 5 on the PET scan. To explain the broad strokes of what the Deauville radiology concept means, it is a tool used to score cancer masses: 1-3 on the scale means remission, 4 means cancer is an ember growing within you, and 5 is a bonfire.

I was 27 years old, had ran a marathon, worked out avidly — but regardless, I still had cancer. I was sucked into a whirlwind of emotional turbulence as my family and I processed this information. We spoke to a bunch of friends who all gave the same irritating advice: Get a second opinion. My family and I decided to hunker down and begin the slow march through biopsies and treatment.

We kicked into high gear, forming the Allied powers to defeat the evil Axis of cancer. It was chemotherapy D-Day, and we were hoping to break through the cancer’s defenses and march to victory.


How Beating Cancer Refocused My MBA Journey — And My Career Plans

Elliot Sheridan, Cornell MBA student and cancer survivor: “I plan to learn from technology experts to create a website and platform aimed to help the next cancer patient in need … we will help people with cancer refocus their lives”

The enemy, they told me initially, was Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a highly treatable version of cancer. Oncologists even told me I was lucky to get this type of cancer and not a different kind. I was prescribed a chemotherapy regimen and made lofty promises of the high chance of success.

Well, I hate spoilers, but I am going to tell you the end of the story now anyway. During my initial ABVD chemotherapy, the cancer mutated within me, turning into gray zone lymphoma, a cancer with a much worse prognosis. Essentially, I went through six months of Hodgkin’s-targeted chemotherapy for nothing.

A difficult part of cancer is dealing with the slow burn months of long-term stress. This stress is underscored by the uncertain feeling that every treatment you are white-knuckling through could be a catastrophic failure. This feeling roared to center stage during my first midterm scan. My family and I were out eating ramen as we anxiously awaited the results (which for some reason are sent via email).
After picking up the takeout, I got the email. I was supposed to get a Deauville 1-3, which means the cancer’s embers had been doused with the poisonous waters of chemotherapy and turned to ash. But I still had a 4. I was fighting the cancer and the disease had parried the treatment. It was fighting back. I processed this information with profound horror. We did not touch our ramen that night.

This issue was beginning to become apparent during my subsequent scans. In my final scan of this regimen, I still had a 4. However, the cancer had shrunk and the doctors believed that this PET activity was simply my thymus, a lymphatic gland, being overactive. Four MDs signed off and told me I was fine. I did not consider the fact that sometimes doctors can be wrong.

Naively exhilarated, I was inspired to move my commercial real estate business to Charlotte, N.C., and reroot my life from my small hometown of Greensboro, N.C.

Things did not go as planned. After three months of living the high life in Charlotte, I went back to Greensboro for my follow-up scan. When I returned to Charlotte, I received the email. The cancer was back to a 5. Now my life was officially in chaos. I had gone from the acute success of being a commercial real estate broker in Greensboro to, now, a double cancer patient.


During all of this, I was continuing to work hard at my business. I was closing real estate deals with such companies as The Home Depot, Inc., Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Caliber Collision, Autozone, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Inc., and many more. I was highly successful in selling tens of millions of dollars in commercial real estate throughout the U.S. — all while having cancer.

While I was enduring chemotherapy again now for the second time, I would be fielding business calls and conducting retail and industrial real estate transactions. But it was difficult to see the importance of what I was doing while I was anchored to a chemo drip. My perspective widened and I began to feel like a lost person without a passion or reason to exist.

Twenty-five overnight stays in the hospital and 30 trips to the radiation machine later, I beat the cancer again for good. During this process of being lost at sea and devoid of a purpose, I spiraled into a deep depression. But my soul searching led me to apply on a whim to the MBA program at Cornell University. I had only enough to energy to fill out one application, and I am grateful in every dimension of my soul to the admissions team that they did end up accepting me.

I figured at a top institution such as Cornell, I would be resuscitated once more with passion. Now in Ithaca, thrown into the tumultuous environment of highly focused shining Ivy stars, I began to feel motivated again. After a few months pondering my new direction, an epiphany hit me. The meaning of my life will be to help any person on this Earth struggling with cancer. Leveraging my business/sales/MBA experience, my personal goal is to start one of the greatest nonprofits in the world to fight cancer.


As I look back on the experience of having had cancer, while I obviously would rather have not gone through it in the first place, I realize that it has become my single greatest asset.

I am stubborn as a mule and it took facing the gates of death for my mission in life to change. Before cancer, I was on a mission for myself, working every day to try line my pockets. While fighting for my life, I felt the intense emptiness that this lifestyle offered me.
Now, I believe that when I look back at the end of my life, I won’t be thinking about the buildings I sold or the net leases inked, but the people I helped and the time I spent with my family.

I will thus center my nonprofit around the concept “I Can.” My personal mission is to ensure that cancer patients will not feel the bewildering feelings that I did. It is my goal to help every patient suffering from this terrible disease to say these words and believe them: “I can beat this.” The power of a positive mindset is absolutely essential in a cancer battle, and I have the unique skillset to be the hand that any cancer patient can reach out to. I am living proof that it is possible to get through it.

Combining my newfound passion to help cancer patients in need with my expertise in real estate, the first goal of my nonprofit is to open a community center in New York City. I believe that in New York City, I can make the deepest impact, reaching a vast metropolis of people from all walks of life.

In the current nonprofit landscape it is essential to harness the power of modern technology to quickly scale my fundraising efforts. In order to best master my fluency in technology, at Cornell I plan to learn from technology experts how best to create a platform aimed at helping the next cancer patient in need, and the next, and the next. My nonprofit will provide resources to cancer patients, from patient advocates to therapists, yoga instructors, and beyond. Most importantly, we will help people with cancer refocus their lives. While inflicted with this disease, it is imperative to go out and live life — to make cancer a side quest of your life, not the main quest.

I am thrilled to announce the creation of my nonprofit “I Can,” and thank you all for taking the time to read this.


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