Against All Odds

UCF rowing’s senior coxswain Claire Frenkel can chalk up her career aspiration of becoming a pediatric oncology nurse to a pair of socks.

As a 4-year-old, Frenkel battled tonsil cancer, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, and it was always Florida Hospital For Children’s Nurse Cathy with her decorative socks of cats or colorful stripes who put a smile on Frenkel’s face.

“I was on edge of dying the whole time, and nobody let me know. I never felt that way because I had nurses wearing funny socks or making jokes or watching the Lion King with me eight hours a day because it was my favorite movie,” Frenkel said. “I knew almost immediately when I finished my treatments that I wanted to be a nurse. I would love to be that for somebody else and give them that one ounce of hope that you can make it through this. I really want that interaction and impact.”

Frenkel, who joined the rowing team her freshman year by attending open tryouts, will receive her bachelor’s degree in Psychology on Saturday, May 5.

Graduation will cap an incredible career at UCF for the Orlando native and a milestone that doctors never thought she’d live long enough to reach.

Frenkel started chemotherapy on April 21, 1994 – her fourth birthday – after she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in her tonsils. She was Florida Hospital for Children’s first-ever pediatric cancer patient.

“At one point, I think there was a 90-percent fatality chance. They didn’t give us good odds, but being a parent I refused to believe that,” Frenkel’s mother, Maureen McArdle, said. “I believe positive thinking really goes a long way in people’s cures, and they say that you have better success with kids because they do whatever you tell them to.

“We’d tell Claire you’re going to watch movies today at the doctor’s office, and she’d be happy and say ‘OK!’ Meanwhile, her father and I were watching toxins get pumped into her body. You just have to deal with the hand you’re dealt with and move forward. We tried to make it a positive experience and do whatever we could to not have her feel pain.”

Over the next nine months, Frenkel underwent seven rounds of chemotherapy. Six of those weeks, she also received a daily dose of radiation.

Read more about Frenkel in her UCFTODAY featured article here.


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