In March of 2018, just a few months into the spring semester, Danielle Roche received shocking news. Her biopsy results came back positive for breast cancer. At just 36 and halfway into the Fresno State Doctor of Physical Therapy program, Roche had to make a defining decision.

Should she take some time off to focus on her health or continue with her studies?

With unwavering optimism, Roche chose the latter — and now she’s just days away from walking across the stage at Fresno State’s 108th Commencement with her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and, more importantly, her health.

“When I got the diagnosis a year ago, I was pretty driven to keep going with the program,” Roche said. “I knew the treatment plan would take some time, so I was hoping to just take the rest of the semester step by step. School was such a good distraction, honestly. I was able to focus on school and not have to focus on things that weren’t in my control.”

Roche (right) received immense support from faculty, like Dr. Jenna Sawdon-Bea (pictured above) and her DPT classmates and other department faculty (pictured below)


Roche began her first round of chemotherapy right before finals that semester and, later that summer, continued with six rounds of chemotherapy every 21 days. Because of her treatment, Roche was given the opportunity to postpone the 12-week clinical rotation second-year students in the program typically complete. Instead, she will complete that clinical this summer.

During her three years in the program, Roche made it a priority to participate in rigorous research projects that helped individuals with Parkinson’s and limb loss. Through the physical therapy profession, Roche said she aspires to help her patients make positive changes, regardless of challenges that can arise. Her firsthand experience as the patient, not the provider, allowed her a unique perspective.

Read the rest of Danielle’s inspiring story on

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Roche is one of the only 32 students admitted (on average) into the 3-year Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Fresno State.