by Lyn Dowling

Cynthia Bryant wasn’t going to be a physician.

She took a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin and then prospered in her own business, selling Mary Kay cosmetics.  But something about medicine still appealed to this daughter of an orthopedic surgeon and a registered nurse, and so, at the age of 28, she returned to the university in order to fulfill prerequisites for medical school, and then enrolled at the Medical College of Wisconsin.  She now practices radiation oncology, a specialty she never thought she would practice, at Space Coast Cancer Center.

“When I went to medical school, I was going to be an OB/GYN.  I remember telling my mother that I would never do oncology, ever,” she says.  “Then Beth Erickson (a much-respected radiation oncologist in Wisconsin) came down and I thought she was the coolest person I’d ever met.  That was the first time I’d ever even thought about radiation oncology.”

Bryant says she “discovered an amazing field of medicine” in which she would be involved in every aspect of patient care.  “I needed a field in which the patients really needed me, and I needed a lot of brain candy.  Radiation oncology provided both.”

She went on to do her internship and residency at Emory University, practiced in South Carolina and Georgia, and arrived in Brevard County last year to join a growing, highly regarded practice that has become ever more important in the lives of Brevardians.  “It is the perfect fit.  I feel as if more and more people need radiation oncology because of the aging population,” she explains.  “Cancer is a disease of the elderly . . . the process of aging contributes to the development of cancers, and so more and more people require radiation oncology,” she adds.

That radiation oncologists can help is most positive.  But because of current economic conditions, so many patients and potential patients do not carry health insurance, is a major problem.

“In some ways, the medical profession has not been affected by the economic downturn, but that’s not completely true,” she says.  “People who lose their jobs also lose their insurance and therefore are less likely to seek medical help, or they no longer have the insurance to help pay for it.  So we may have the same number of patients, but more without insurance,” Bryant says, adding that it is difficult for some doctors to invest in new technology, for example, when fewer patients are insured and paying.

Still, she believes the economy has reached its lowest point and it is about to turn around.  “We’re at the trough and things are going to get better.  I know it’s particularly stressful here because of so many issues with NASA, but relatively speaking, that’s a tempest that will blow away.  The Space Coast area is so promising because it is such a high-technology area, even outside the space center,” Bryant says.

She laughs about her 76-year-old mother, to whom she refers as “my inspiration” steadfastly clinging to her home in frosty Wisconsin, and as she speaks, Bryant is preparing to fly there for a visit.  She hopes “the most competent, caring person I’ve ever encountered” someday will join her in the Sunshine State, which Bryant clearly loves.

Never one to remain idle or apathetic, she has taken full advantage of her new surroundings.  “I’ve taken up Bikram yoga.  I’m also learning to sail and I’m a cyclist and I scuba dive.  I thought, ‘if I’m going to do the Florida thing, I’m going to really embrace it.  I’m going to learn to play golf too.’”

Then again, idleness, apathy and medicine simply do not mix, in Bryant’s opinion.  “The only people who should go into medicine are people who truly love it.  The process of becoming a doctor is all consuming – physically, mentally and financially.  It takes everything you have, literally.  No amount of money ever can make it worthwhile unless you truly love it,” she says, adding that she cannot imagine not practicing.

“I cannot picture retirement.  I want to be at work until the day I die.”