KCU student who overcame childhood cancer prepares to serve as pediatrician

“It’s a complete exhaustion that consumes you.” That is how Regan Hill described what he felt while battling cancer as a young child. Today, the medical student sets out to help children with severe health problems – including those in need of cancer care.

Preparing to start pediatric residency at Phoenix Children’s Hospital is a step toward fulfilling a lifelong calling for Kansas City University (KCU)  College of Osteopathic Medicine Student Doctor Regan Hill. “I just knew there was no other consideration. I want to be a pediatrician who treats cancers and rare blood disorders,” Hill explained.

Hill knows firsthand the struggles and fears a child faces when he or she becomes seriously ill. He found out he had acute lymphocytic leukemia at the age of 4 and vividly remembers the confusion and disbelief he felt when he heard the diagnosis. “It all just happens very fast. You show up thinking you have some kind of terrible flu,” Hill recalled. “One blood test later and it shows there is actually something much more sinister going on.”

Though acute lymphocytic leukemia is a very treatable cancer, Hill developed a serious allergic reaction to his chemotherapy, which delayed remission for him until the age of 7. He had a hospital stay of nearly a year and then weekly appointments for years after. “My mom had to live with me in the hospital while my dad cared for my siblings at home. The strain this puts on a family is very significant,” he empathized. “I believe it’s important as a pediatrician to recognize the challenges children and their entire families face during times of critical illness.”

Hill remembers an endless wave of people surrounding him who were trying to help and the overwhelming emotions he experienced as a scared 4-year-old. “Those memories give me some insight and understanding of what sick children are going through,” he explained. “I even remember the social implications, like losing my hair and missing a significant amount of school. I really hope that understanding makes me a better physician.”

A steady force in his life—his mother–taught him the importance of appreciating parents as advocates. She believed in open communication with her son’s physicians if she had concerns about treatments. Now, Hill will remember that perspective every time he dons his white coat. “My mom always advocated for me. She always knew when my body was too weak and would react negatively to an intervention,” he recalled. “It was important that doctors listened even though the literature may have said, ‘it doesn’t happen that way.”’

The long days he spent surrounded by faculty and staff at Children’s Mercy Kansas City as a child served as his inspiration to become a doctor. “We all have people in our lives that we view as heroes. For me, the heroes were the people who became my second family and who I appreciated more and more as I got older–the physicians and nurses who cared for me,” he expressed. As that young boy fighting cancer, he never imagined he would return to Children’s Mercy years later as a medical student. “I had three months of rotations there while attending KCU, which was awesome. I was really excited to be matched with Phoenix Children’s Hospital because it reminded me so much of Children’s Mercy,” Hill said.

As commencement nears for the Class of 2024, the future physician says he ultimately hopes he can use his experience to offer reassurance to parents and children in his care. “An incredible thing about children and why I love working with them so much is their ability to bounce back from these horrendous things. It’s just inspiring,” Hill expressed. “I am proud to know that I am making a career out of providing comfort and care to families who desperately need it.”