Jackson County

‘On this journey together.’ Coast mom, son go from college roommates to medical school grads.

HPV vaccine to prevent cancer: A pediatrician’s recommendation

A pediatrician explains why she, as a doctor and a parent, recommends HPV vaccine for boys and girls ages 11-12.
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A pediatrician explains why she, as a doctor and a parent, recommends HPV vaccine for boys and girls ages 11-12.

A mother-son duo from Ocean Springs will walk across the same Mississippi graduation stage Friday after studying medicine together, and even living as college roommates.

Now they hope to use their knowledge to help people across the state and the Coast.

Carolann Risley, a nurse practitioner, does research on HPV. She says the cancer-causing virus kills many women in the state each year, and she hopes her research will help lower that number.

Andrew Risley has a love for dentistry, and hopes to one day serve the Coast once he wraps up his time in school.

Giving back to the community is one of many things he’s learned from his mom. Another is how to push through adversity. That drive is the reason they are graduating together.

“For me, not getting into dental school right away made me have to go another route. So I decided to keep pushing, get my master’s and join my mom during her final year,” said Andrew.

Both will graduate from University of Mississippi Medical Center; Carolann with a doctorate of philosophy in nursing science and research and Andrew with a master’s degree in biomedical sciences.

Before Andrew started full-time at UMMC, Carolann was commuting to Jackson every week for three years.

“When he was accepted to the master’s program, it made my commute so much easier because I could just stay with him,” she said. “It made my last year a joy.”

Andrew’s acceptance to the graduate program was not only the start of a new chapter for himself, but also for his mom. They went from mother and son, to college roommates.

“It was really funny because we would study together sometimes, but other times we were literally just roommates and would do our own thing,” said Andrew.

Carolann said it was nice to take the “mom” hat off for a moment.

“We had the benefit of living together in his apartment in Jackson, and it was lots of fun to do that as a roommate and not necessarily his parent. That was our agreement.”

It was a lot easier at times for her to keep that agreement than it was for Andrew. She says Andrew actually turned into the protective parent in some instances.

“I remember nights where I’d be on campus late doing research, and he’d call and say ‘Mom are you OK? Do I need to come get you?’ and he would come over and walk me back,” she said.

That bond and those special moments makes this week very emotional for them.

“I might shed a tear because I’ve seen the struggles and adversity my mom has faced,” Andrew said earlier this week.

“I’ll never forget the days when we were up all night trying to get her dissertation on point and perfect. I had to encourage her like ‘Mom you’ve worked too hard and put in too much time to stop now!’ We’ve literally been on this journey together.”

Carolann said she already knows she’ll need a box of tissues.

“I’ll be crying. It was my father’s dream that I’d be a doctor. He won’t be there physically with us, but he’ll be there in spirit. And my mom has had her bags packed for a week! She’s so excited to see the two of us earn our degrees.”

After graduation, Carolann will be working at the National Cancer Institute studying HPV. Andrew will start dental school at Temple University, his mom’s alma mater.

Although their time in the same city has come to an end, Carolann is confident her motto will see them through the separation.

“My motto is adapt, overcome, persist and repeat, and Andrew and I will continue to do that over and over and over again.”

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Britneé Davis is McClatchy’s South Region Digital Producer. The south region includes the Sun Herald, the Telegraph, and the Ledger-Enquirer.