My professional odyssey into the world of cancer began early in life as a mixture of aspiration and duty to follow the medical career path common in my family. I realize now in retrospect what personal growth this career has brought. As an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I was fascinated by the precision of science and the marvels of technology, eager to apply this in the medical field. In medical school, I was fortunate to be enrolled in a program at Duke University that allowed for a full year of research and was enthralled with the field of immunology, elegantly illustrated by the lock-and-key concept of antibodies shielding us from infections — and also protecting us from cancer. My mentor was a cancer immunologist, and my early research experience led me to pursue further training in oncology.
As a medical oncology fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, I became interested in molecular biology — the field of genetics and using our evolving knowledge of cancer-causing genes to target cancer. My research project involved methods to turn off HER2/neu, a gene then newly discovered and known to be involved in breast cancer. It was through that route that I became a breast cancer specialist as I started my academic career, testing a newly developed antibody to the HER2/neu protein, now known as trastuzumab (Herceptin), which has since gone on to be approved for the treatment of breast cancer.
Yet the purely scientific pathway that landed me in the field of breast cancer was just the beginning of a personal awareness of its multi-dimensional nature. My patients became my teachers, equally important as textbooks, journals and laboratory experiments. The burgeoning field of patient advocacy, patients’ interest in complementary and alternative medicine, and the wrenching treatment decisions that they had to make with their doctors led me to realize that no amount of technology or mapping of the human genome could solve the very human challenges of cancer.
My patients became my teachers, equally important as textbooks, journals and laboratory experiments.
Over the course of my academic career, I was a part of two breast cancer research programs and was engaged in research in diverse aspects of breast cancer, including molecular biology, testing of herbal therapies and examining the way patients and doctors make decisions based on medical evidence and personal preferences. These interests, along with many others of the cancer journey, have made this new aspect of my career both exciting and daunting.
The phase that follows a diagnosis and immediate treatment for cancer is complex and individual. It has components of healing, reawakening and discovery of a new life. It is also colored by ongoing fear and frustration. Cancer survivorship is a diverse field with an arching scope of issues, and those who navigate these waters deserve a dedicated magazine such as Heal. In each issue we are humbly attempting to represent survivorship with stories, essays, art and many other innovative and traditional features. Indeed, after only two issues Heal has accepted its first award — for excellence in design of a new magazine, for which it received a silver from Folio: magazine at its recent show in New York City.
We promise readers of both Heal and CURE the latest information. One upcoming effort will be on-site coverage of the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, to be held in December in San Antonio. We will be interviewing physicians, scientists and advocates who are shaping the field and will hear about their hopes and challenges in early detection, treatment and survivorship. We hope those of you touched by breast cancer will choose to join us by going to our web page www.healtoday.com/eupdates and signing up.
Wishing you the best that life has to offer,
Debu Tripathy, MD,
for the Heal team
Recently, I assumed the role as editor-in-chief of both Heal and CURE magazines, a move that feels like a natural progression in my career and personal evolution — to create innovative ways to communicate and teach (as well as to continue to learn) the intricacies of cancer from a biological, clinical and cultural standpoint.