I recently attended a talk by Sandra Tsing Loh, a Caltech physics major who is now an accomplished author, comedian, and radio commentator (amongst other talents). I was fascinated to hear of her own process of trial and error as she searched for her true passion. She graduated from Caltech with a B.S. in physics and sat for the GREs only to realize mid-exam that physics was not her true passion. How fitting it was that she should be addressing an audience of young students who are struggling to find out exactly who they want to be, though many of them had a vague idea they would like to pursue science. Science, much like life itself, is a process of trial and error with the aim of bringing out the best--whether it be from within a test tube or an individual.
I first experienced this trial and error last summer--my first summer conducting lab research. I was that lab rat making all sorts of concoctions (the wrong ones, on more than one occasion). Unlike last summer, this summer I am in a "dry lab," or what some people would not really consider a lab at all. Lab or no lab, however, the research I have been doing has been fulfilling, inspiring, and eye-opening. To say the least, this summer is one that I am certain I will never forget. Right now you're probably thinking to yourself, "Yeah yeah. That all sounds so cliche." You're right. It does sound cliche. But, it's true--and I hope you will begin to see why.
More specifically, I have been doing lung cancer research at the City of Hope (COH) National Medical Center in Duarte, California (getting my year's worth of vitamin D before heading back east). As a comprehensive cancer center, City of Hope couldn't have a more fitting name. Part of COH's job is to instill patients with a sense of hope, and many times this is one of the primary reasons patients want to be treated at COH.
There is no hope without new knowledge. As such, COH combines breakthrough research leading to clinical trials with a treatment hospital, so the patients are at the forefront of new treatment discoveries that they can benefit from. I am doing data collection to examine the results of an ongoing clinical trial. Specifically, we are examining whether certain lung cancer patients who have lymph nodes that are "involved" (positive for lung cancer) are more predisposed to the formation of a larger "pre-metastatic niche," or a womb of sorts for developing cancer cells that results in metastases.
If the answer is yes, then researchers may be able to predict the formation of secondary tumors in patients before they happen. Anyone who knows anything about cancer knows that planning and early detection is crucial. This is especially true in lung cancer, where patients present with few symptoms in early stages, and the cancer is usually not able to be detected until after it has spread.
I also have been working on a clinical trial with a doctor, whom I am so fortunate to have as my mentor. This enables me to see patients, whose stories are what have impacted me most. I hope that I can convey the meaning that these experiences hold for me in this blog. Due to patient privacy rules, there are some details (age, name, personal identifying features) that I cannot reveal. However, I am sure that the sheer power of these stories is strong enough such that it will not be lost.
City of Hope National Medical Center Internship
The Network for Pre-Professional Women in Science and Engineering
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