How Cancer Set Me on a Path to Help Others
Jeanne Margavio
Jeanne Margavio
Clinical Research Associate

Tragedy is something few us can avoid. The people we love get sick, accidents occur, life – in all its complexities – simply happens. How we channel those experiences differs for each of us.

And sometimes, life’s challenges can set us on a path we never expected.

Jeanne Margavio, a Clinical Research Associate here at PRA, is someone who has faced her fair share of personal challenges. But along the way, she found her path professionally as a nurse and as someone dedicated to clinical research to help others. This is her story.

Interested in seeing if your passions, interests, and experience can lead to a new career? Check out our job openings on our PRA Careers page; we’d love to talk with you!


We usually whisper that word – and for good reason. It’s a word no one wants to hear. Maybe because we know that once it’s articulated, life will never be the same. Once that word is uttered – a clock begins to tick. I still remember hearing that word from my father on the day that cancer changed my life forever.

My daddy would’ve made an excellent leading man – he was handsome, strong, intelligent, and hilariously quick-witted – the center of every gathering. He always had a song in his heart, which he sang or whistled to the world every single day (which, of course, horrified the teenage version of me). Those songs came less often during a grueling year and a half of chemotherapy and radiation for lung cancer – and then stopped entirely just after his 64th birthday. 25 years prior, he had unknowingly acquired the means for cancer to grow. He was working an extra job on the weekends, because he had a new baby to care for. That weekend job entailed working with asbestos. That baby was me.


He died alone while his family still slept, in a Houston cancer center, surrounded by other fathers, brothers, and mothers that would soon share his fate. The worst day of my life, no question, but I am not special, I’m just one of many. Nearly everyone has a friend or family member that has been assailed by this disease. It is one of the only tragic constants in this life.

Fast forward to twenty plus years later, and I found myself in a nursing program. I think I decided to become a nurse because of my father. I’d like to think that maybe he’s helped guide me here and I’d almost bet that he’s very proud.


I loved nursing school – it was incredibly challenging, but I still loved it. Clinical research was an enormous component of my baccalaureate program and I did well enough that a professor advised me to consider it as a career. The best place to start that career in research? That cancer center just across the street from my nursing school – the same cancer center where my father had died twenty years earlier. At the time, I could not envision myself walking the halls of that hospital for 40+ hours a week – I was still grieving even then. I think, maybe, we never stop. So, I chose a more comfortable path.

After receiving my hard-earned nursing license, I had the privilege of working with some amazing special needs children. Those kids were the bright spot in my day, (although I suffered terribly with an earworm called “Wheels On the Bus” for roughly 3 years). My little guy, Paul, loved that song. Loved it just as much the 300th time he heard it as he did the first. And so, it went.

Paul had Fragile X syndrome, a genetic hiccup that caused a severe intellectual disability and prevented him from ever learning to talk. But he could smile bigger than anyone I’ve ever met.


Paul wasn’t so sure about me when I first met him, but it didn’t take long for us to become friends. He would never be able to say my name, but his bright, sweet smile when I entered the room told me I had made it into his inner circle. That little boy was love and light, joy, and innocence personified.

When I’d visit his classroom, he would stop whatever he was doing to hug me and “talk” to me (unless, of course, he was eating – that boy loved his lunch!); and, of course, we had to listen to “Wheels On the Bus” a few times. Many days and hugs later, we started to notice that Paul was not himself. Soon after, we learned that Paul had an inoperable brain tumor – an especially nasty tumor with a dire prognosis. His parents – literally, the best parents I’ve ever had the benefit of knowing – found a clinical trial for Paul to try for a miracle. But also, I think, they put Paul on that trial knowing that the knowledge gained would help another family with a sick child down the line. That’s just the kind of people they are. Over the next several months, I worked with Paul’s oncologist to make sure that we followed the protocol and documented his progress. I’d finally gotten my first real experience with research – seemingly by accident.

Paul eventually died from that tumor, but being on that trial provided him extra time with his family – to experience one more family vacation and another birthday party. A few more memories made to sustain his parents and his sister until they see Paul again.

I keep Paul’s picture on my desk to remind me that there is still so much work to be done. I wonder, sometimes, if the path that led me to this career really was accidental. Because of Paul, I finally found the courage to start that research career – at the same cancer center where my father died so long ago. I can’t help but think that my father and Paul helped me find my way – leading me to where I’m meant to be. Every day, I contribute to eradicating this disease in some small way – hopefully helping a daughter have her daddy for a bit longer or maybe, allowing a sweet soul like Paul to just be a kid, a son, and a brother instead of a cancer patient.

PRA’s Bridge Program

Jeanne was part of the Bridge Program, a program that is designed to help develop clinical research associates (CRAs).Here are a few facts about PRA’s Bridge Program:

When did it start?

What is it?
A 10-week curriculum that enables well-qualified RNs, study coordinators, and allied health professionals to transition into a CRA role. In 2016, more than 500 employees passed through the Bridge Program – doubling participation from just one year prior and setting a new record.

Why is the program needed? To help keep up with the increasing demand for CRAs in the clinical development industry.

How does the program work, what are the requirements?
The Clinical Operations team, with help from recruiters, looks for medically trained people and study coordinators to participate in the program. Often people are needed in certain geographic areas, or with certain areas of therapeutic expertise such as oncology. People are selected based on their qualifications and specific study needs around the world.

Has it been successful?
It has become one of the most well-known programs in the industry and PRA continues to receive approximately 25 applications per month. The program has produced accomplished CRAs who have received numerous compliments from internal staff, external Study Coordinators, and Sponsors for the quality of their work. The program is also well-regarded by participants.

I personally want to thank you for all you did to create this program and for giving me the opportunity to become a CRA by going through the Bridge classes. I cannot express enough gratitude and I can only say THANK YOU! A year went by and I love my job beyond words. There are a lot of things I learned along the way (and my previous experience as a study coordinator for 12 years perhaps helped too) and I am sure learning never stops for someone who aspires to gain more knowledge in this field, but to me working as a CRA is a dream come true.—Bridge graduate

The opportunity that you provided me through the Bridge Program has truly shaped my career. I was one the first to graduate from my Bridge class, and was assigned as a primary CRA to three sites after only three months on study. It is an understatement to say that for the first time in my life, I love my job, and I love the company that I work for, and I am very optimistic and looking forward to continuing to grow with PRA. Thank you very much for providing me with this opportunity! I am truly eternally grateful and just wanted to let you know how this opportunity you gave me has impacted my career and life for the positive. –Bridge graduate