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Moving Forward: Ify Ezeobele

Conquest - Spring 2009

By Mary Jane Schier

While she’s long been a role model for her nursing colleagues and students, Ify Ezeobele, Ph.D., is more enthusiastic about being a cancer survivor.

“I am eager to share my cancer experiences and offer hope to others just beginning their cancer journeys,” says Ezeobele, senior nurse manager of three adult units at The University of Texas Harris County Psychiatric Center (HCPC) in Houston.

When told she had stage III lymphoma in October 2002, Ezeobele says she “was devastated. Everything was going so well, both personally and professionally, and I couldn’t imagine having cancer.”

At the time, she had just started working toward her Ph.D. in nursing science and had an article published in a nursing magazine. She thrived on providing extensive mental health services to patients at HCPC, teaching nursing students at Houston Community College and balancing those responsibilities with helping husband David raise son Kenny in their Houston area home.

“I thought my life was about perfect,” Ezeobele recalls, “but I now think having cancer was a blessing because I appreciate every day even more.”

Born in Nigeria, she was the fourth of six children whose parents encouraged each to get a good education. With a diploma in nursing, she moved in 1979 to Houston, where over the next six years she met and married David, worked in two hospitals and received a bachelor’s degree in nursing and two master’s degrees, one in health education and another in nursing.

“My goal was to get a Ph.D.,” explains Ezeobele, who was in the first semester at Texas Woman’s University College of Nursing-Houston Center when diagnosed. “I didn’t know a lot about lymphoma,” she says, “but I knew I wanted to come to M. D. Anderson.”

During combination chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she had “some rough times,” including a serious side effect called “chemobrain” that affects concentration and memory.

Ezeobele was determined not to drop out of classes. “Studying was therapeutic, even on the darkest days, and I had many supportive colleagues, a wonderful family and a strong faith to help me.”

Although receiving her Ph.D. last December was “a dream realized,” she stresses that joining the ranks of cancer survivors was an “even better” achievement.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center