Cancer Student

The medical physics class at LSU poses at its recent Zumbathon fund raiser for graduate classmate Tony Mazza. (Credit: Courtesy of Lydia Wilson)
The medical physics class at LSU poses at its recent Zumbathon fund raiser for graduate classmate Tony Mazza. (Credit: Courtesy of Lydia Wilson)
: Self photo of Tony Mazza. (Credit: Courtesy of Tony Mazza)
: Self photo of Tony Mazza. (Credit: Courtesy of Tony Mazza)

By Mark Clements | LSU Student

Tony Mazza is like every other LSU student.

He takes notes from class lectures, turns in his homework assignments and crams before midterms, balancing school work with his job and social life.

The only difference is Mazza does it all 1,100 miles from Baton Rouge and his balancing act is a daily fight with cancer.

The 28-year-old Pennsylvania native was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in December. He has since relocated back to his hometown of Aliquippa, Penn., for chemotherapy treatments.

But Mazza's move didn't put a stop to his studies.

The first-year medical hysics graduate student is enrolled in a radiation therapy course at LSU and is doing independent studies for class credit.

"Balancing everything has definitely been a bit of a struggle," Mazza said. "Luckily, LSU in general and my department specifically has been incredibly flexible and understanding. Sometimes it's tough to stay on top of the school work, especially when I'm feeling kind of crummy from chemo, but it's coming along."

Mazza uses a computer program the school has set up to watch class lectures live from his home. If he can't make it to a computer for the day's lesson, classmates e-mail him notes, Power points and videos from the lecture to keep him caught up.

"I definitely feel like I have a big extended family down there in Louisiana. Everybody has gone above and beyond my expectations to show their support, in whatever way they can."

The support doesn't end there.

To help Mazza with the financial burdens of fighting cancer, a group of fellow medical physics graduate students conducted a two-hour charity Zumbathon last weekend at Definitions Fitness.

Lydia Wilson, a Zumba instructor and classmate of Mazza's, said the tight-knit group felt "an obligation" to do something to help him through his tough time.

"All of us are also [teaching assistants] through LSU, and that's his only form of income. All of us are scraping by on that, we can't imagine taking on treatment for cancer on top of it."

Wilson said the event raised nearly $1,000.

"We really want to show him that we love him and we're going to do everything we can to bring him back here where he belongs because he really is part of our family here."

Mazza said the feeling is mutual. Though he may hail from the north, Mazza's southern ties are undeniable.

After graduating from Wheeling Jesuit University in 2006, he moved to New Orleans a year later, working with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and the Catholic Charities' Operation Helping Hands, gutting houses wrecked by Hurricane Katrina for the elderly and disabled.

And after helping hundreds of others through their struggles, Mazza is having the favor returned.

"I've felt pretty humbled by how much so many people care about me," Mazza said. "If there's anything positive to be gained from this experience, it's definitely that."

Mazza is currently working through his second round of chemotherapy.

Medical references say two-thirds of colon cancer cases occur after age 50 and the average age for those who develop the disease is 62.

Mazza, at half that average age, plans to be back in Baton Rouge in the fall. "The recovery seems to be going really well. I'm very excited about making it back to town before tailgating starts again."