This is how I looked, and more notably, how Emma Clare looked, the last time I went into The Research Building at Georgetown University. September 2004. This photo was taken before we left the house the morning of my dissertation defense. (And before I had a professional photographer following me around all the time!) After this day, I went back at most two or three times that month to go over some minor revisions before I deposited the final copy of my dissertation. Almost nine years later, last Friday, I walked down the old familiar path past the Lombardi Cancer Center, past the icky Koi pond, and through the doors of The Research Building once again. So much has changed since that day, and yet, as I peeked into the room where I spent countless hours in the hood doing cell culture, so much has remained unchanged.
Friday, I wound my way through those familiar halls for my first meeting with the Georgetown Lombardi Breast Cancer Patient Advocacy Committee. I wish I could come up with an easier nickname than GLBCPAC—it doesn’t really just flow off the tongue—but there you have it. Led by a researcher who started her postdoctoral fellowship the same year I left Georgetown, it’s a group of women who proudly call themselves breast cancer survivors (I’m still working on that one!) and volunteer their time to learn more about scientific research in the field of breast cancer. From what I can gather, though none are scientists, many have gone through scientific and policy training to make them effective advocates for breast cancer research. Some of them now work professionally in an advocacy position, some are retired and their volunteer work is now their only job, and some have maintained their original profession and are advocates in their “spare time.” They have served on grant review panels, attended major cancer association annual meetings, and visited congressmen to lobby on behalf of breast cancer researchers and funding. It was a pleasure getting to know them, and they were all so kind as they welcomed me. As we talked about what I hoped to learn from the group, several suggested friends and colleagues they felt I would benefit from meeting. Bright and early Tuesday morning, I’m going to get started following up on some emails and making a phone call or two to start building that network. This group focuses more on research advocacy, though many are also involved in patient support as well, and they are a great resource in so many areas of breast cancer patient advocacy. I’m so excited that I’ll have the opportunity to meet with them monthly over the summer while I’m trying to figure out if and how I’d like to look for a professional position in this field, and I foresee my relationship with these ladies will continue long into the future.
After the meeting was over, I walked down the hall a few doors and stopped into my old lab. I said “hi” to a few familiar faces and sat down and talked for a while with the friend whose bench faced mine all those years ago. The baby she had just before Emma Clare was born is now just a few inches shorter than she! We talked about old friends, kids, travel, cancer. Then I headed over to my mentor’s office and had a lovely chat with her. I was a little apprehensive—some relationships are hard to pick up after so long. But we had such a nice conversation, we spent a little time talking science, the role of patient advocates in the grant review process, and how that process has changed in the past ten years or so. It was an energizing morning. Having never really loved the bench work, when I left the lab nine years ago with that tiny baby on my hip, I never really anticipated I’d be back. And yet, there I was. What a wild ride.