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Cancer Research Advocacy: Progress With a Side of Heartbreak

There's a heartbreaking reality of making a profession out of cancer, but I chose it anyway.
PUBLISHED: OCTOBER 24, 2016
Not long after I'd finished chemo and had recovered from my mastectomy, I remember sitting in the support group I attend. I'm not sure how the discussion went, but somehow I ended up mentioning that I was volunteering with the Georgetown Breast Cancer Advocates and was trying to figure what kind of job I might eventually like to have. The social worker who led the group at the time (we sure do miss her and her pointed questions now that she's in private practice!) looked at me and asked about my career aspirations, "Does it have to be cancer?" At the time, the question baffled me. Of course, it had to be cancer. I not only have a pretty thorough academic education in the subject, but I have a pretty personal education, too. Fifteen years ago, it had to be cancer, so there's no reason why actually having cancer should change that.

In retrospect, I understand her question a little better now. I'm sure she sees a lot of patients who try to abandon their original career and stop doing the things they love because they feel forever changed by cancer. I'm sure that works out really well for some people (think Ellen Sigal, the patient advocate who went from being a real estate developer to the founder of a powerful cancer policy group and the lone advocate on the Blue Ribbon Panel for the Cancer Moonshot). But I'm sure she saw people who floundered trying to redefine a career by their cancer alone. I think I addressed her question well enough, telling her that this was what I'd always wanted to do, I'd just taken a break while my kids were tiny. My own experience with a cancer diagnosis just meant that I would have an additional perspective, and frankly, I'd probably be better received by the people I was hoping to help. I dismissed her question, and we moved on to discuss what someone else was going through.



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As a PhD student in tumor biology, Jamie Holloway survived long hours researching breast cancer in the labs of Georgetown University. Ten years later, after being diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, she survived that too. Now with no evidence of disease, she shares a patient's perspective with scientists and clinicians as a breast cancer research advocate. A wife, mother, runner, and lipstick addict, she shares her story from the perspective of both a patient and a scientist.
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