Nursing Graduate Well Schooled in Cancer Care

May 16, 2013Bookmark and Share

Alfredo Axtmayer II will have a unique perspective to share with his patients when he becomes a nurse practitioner with a specialty in oncology. In 2008, when he was 27, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It is now in remission.

Axtmayer running the New York City Marathon in 2011
Axtmayer running the New York City Marathon in 2011

“Nurses, nurse practitioners and doctors really helped me through a difficult time,” says Axtmayer, 31, who received chemotherapy and radiation for two years and then had a stem-cell transplant. “I hope I can offer the same empathy and compassion coupled with good care.” He receives a B.S. from Columbia’s School of Nursing on May 21 and immediately begins a master’s program to become a nurse practitioner, giving him additional academic and clinical training to diagnose and treat patients.

The son of an orthopedic surgeon with Puerto Rican roots and an Irish-American nurse, he always had a career in medicine in the back of his mind. But he had several other careers before he settled on nursing. After earning a B.A. in Spanish from Dickinson College in 2004, he taught Spanish and coached soccer and wrestling at a boarding school near his hometown of Wallingford, Conn., for two years. He then went to work for a non-profit that he and a friend started, love.fútbol, which provides raw materials and know-how to build soccer fields for children in some of the most impoverished areas of the world.

“Soccer gave me confidence and life skills that I still use,” says Axtmayer, who played in high school and college. “It’s a catalyst for change.” So far, the organization has completed nine projects in Guatemala and is finishing a fourth project in Brazil, serving between 6,000 and 8,000 children. Although he is no longer involved in day-to-day operations, he is still on its board.

He was working for NYU, doing obesity and nutrition research at a clinic on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, when he was diagnosed with cancer and moved back to Connecticut for treatment. He returned to New York after the treatment ended and in 2011 started work as a smoking cessation counselor at the VA Medical Center in Manhattan and later became a supervisor in the program, which focuses on veterans with post-traumatic stress and depression.

He now volunteers in a bone-marrow match program at the nursing school. Last year he and his three siblings started the Axtmayer Cancer Fund under the umbrella of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven to promote advocacy and raise awareness for cancer patients aged 18 to 40. “It’s a chance to give back,” he says.

To celebrate a year of being cancer free, Axtmayer ran the New York City Marathon in 2011 and was planning to run in 2012 when the race was cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy. He will be running again this year. He also ran in a New Haven-Boston relay in 2010, six months after being declared in remission, to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. During a break in the nursing program this summer he hopes to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. “I hear it’s an easy climb,” he says.

—by Georgette Jasen

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Milestones

Columbia University mourns the death of Robert Belknap, professor emeritus in the Department of Slavic Languages, who died March 17. An expert in Russian literature, particularly Dostoyevsky, he also taught Literature Humanities in the Core Curriculum for 50 years and influenced generations of Columbia students. For more information, please visit this page.

Mary Bassett, associate professor of clinical epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, was named New York City’s commissioner of health.

University Professor Ronald Breslow won the 2014 American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal, the AIC’s highest award.

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