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Graduating senior: ‘UNF taught me to advocate for myself and saved my life’

Mariah Glomb posed next to a tree in her cap and gownMariah Glomb, a University of North Florida senior studying biology, hadn’t felt right for six months.  

Both her grandfather and father suffered from colon cancer, but she didn’t have health insurance and was without access to quality care. 

Glomb had been dreaming of a career helping animals since participating in the Disney College Program in 2017 when she had an up-close encounter with a sweet giraffe who walked up and licked her while she was riding the safari ride at Animal Kingdom in Disney World.  

Now it was early 2024, Glomb was finishing her last semester of college at UNF while also interning with the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens and completing her senior research project. There was a lot on her plate, but she knew there was something other than stress affecting her.  

Glomb visited multiple urgent care centers, but doctors refused to test her, saying that she was way too young for cancer at age 28.  

After doctors insinuated it was all in her head, Glomb’s mental health started to suffer.  

“I knew something was wrong with me, but no one was listening.”  

Reaching out for help  

Glomb felt desperate for help and started looking into the resources at UNF. She made an appointment at the UNF Counseling Center in January for her growing anxiety.  

The Counseling Center suspected anxiety wasn’t the only problem and advised her to make an appointment with Student Health Services. 

Glomb said these visits very likely saved her life. 

“Dr. Jane Sander and Melissa La Manna at the Counseling Center as well as Nurse Hope Gunn at Student Health Services were the first medical practitioners who ever really listened to me,” said Glomb. “They pushed me to listen to my body, advocate for myself and not accept doctors saying I was wrong.”  

Glomb left campus that day and went back to her doctor to demand a colonoscopy.  

As a doctor brought her back for the procedure a few weeks later, Glomb questioned what would happen if they found something. 

She remembered the doctor saying, “There is no way we will find something.” 

Glomb woke up from the colonoscopy and was told the doctors had found an 18 mm cancerous polyp. The doctor told her it was the biggest she had ever seen on a patient so young, and she had performed immediate surgery to remove it.  

Her doctors had insisted that Glomb wouldn’t need a colonoscopy until she was 35. If she had waited that long, she likely wouldn’t have made it to see her 35th birthday.  

Now since catching the polyps early, Glomb is feeling much better and expected to make a full recovery. 

“Empowering students to advocate for themselves is a big part of what we do at Student Health Services,” said Gunn, an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse with more than 35 years of nursing experience. “I’ve had many students say that I’m the first to really listen to them. It seems so simple, but it’s so important to ask detailed questions and listen to what your patients are telling you.”  

Looking back 

Mariah Glomb posing with her family in her cap and gownGlomb grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and first moved to Florida in 2017 to participate in the Disney College Program where she fell in love with conservation. Glomb finished the Disney program and unexpectedly had to go back home to Ohio in 2018 to help take care of her father who was undergoing colon cancer treatments.  

“I had my sights set for the UNF biology program and my goal was to return to Florida as soon as my dad was better,” said Glomb.  

While in Ohio, she met her husband. They married and moved back to Florida together in 2020 once her father had recovered. Glomb finished her associates degree at St. John’s River State College and transferred to UNF in 2022.  

While at UNF, Glomb participated in two internships at the Jacksonville Zoo. Her internship working with hoof stock animals inspired her senior research project, a comparative analysis of targeted genetic intervention used on African elephants in the wild.  

After advocating for her health, Glomb found it easy to advocate for her internship success.  

“Mariah has an impressive work ethic, determination to succeed and innate ability for working with animals,” said Zeya Wagner, Jacksonville Zoo senior mammal care specialist. “She was never afraid to jump in and speak up about what she wanted to experience or learn.” 

Moving forward 

Glomb is currently working part-time at the Jacksonville Zoo and hoping a full-time position is soon available. Wagner believes Glomb will be a very strong candidate for an open position in the future.  

When Glomb crossed the stage at Commencement on May 3 with her father and family proudly watching, she became the first woman in her family to graduate from high school and college.  

She plans to return to UNF for graduate school to continue her biology studies next year.  

“My advice for others is to always advocate for yourself and take advantage of available resources, both personally and professionally,” said Glomb. “Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.”