Cancer survivor Susan Orrell made her dream come true

Susan Orrell is receiving a doctor of pharmacy degree from the College of Pharmacy.
Susan Orrell is receiving a doctor of pharmacy degree from the College of Pharmacy. Photo: Christina Murrey

Susan Orrell -- accountant, high school chemistry teacher, grandmother of seven and breast cancer survivor -- is finally making her life-long dream of becoming a pharmacist come true.

Orrell had been accepted into two pharmacy schools in the 1970s, but life circumstances interfered. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, she decided the time was right and applied to The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy.

"Too few people get the opportunity to pursue their life-long dreams," she said. "I see pharmacy as a culmination of my earlier careers in business and teaching rather than as a change in careers."

Orrell wants to some day work as a pharmacist at an oncology center. She believes the strongest aspect of her personality is her empathy and compassion for others, especially the sick and injured.

"Having breast cancer gave me a chance to reflect and realize I was fortunate to be alive," said Orrell, whose cancer was discovered by a mammogram when she was in her 40s.

"My medical team, including a pharmacist, practiced medicine as a collaborative effort. That's the way I would like to do it -- be an active member of my patient's health care team."

Pharmacy is a wealth of knowledge and information, said Orrell, who is graduating with honors in the PharmD (doctor of pharmacy) program, "and a pharmacist actually gets to use, apply and share that knowledge daily."

Considering the diversity and number of drugs, it will be necessary to stay on top of new developments on a day-to-day basis, said Orrell.

"That will give me the opportunity to keep learning all my life."