Lung Cancer Patients Living Self-Portrait Series: Christine
I wanted to create a living self-portraits series about lung cancer patients and caregivers. These portraits are about our feelings, our journey, especially how we got to this point. I will interview the patients and the caregivers as if I am a brush in their hand. Today, I interviewed myself as the 1st living self-portrait of the series.
I’m Christine, a 4-year patient of ROS1+ lung cancer. Before I got sick, I was an Engineering professor and had a very rewarding career. One year ago, I became a cancer patient advocate and never looked back.
How did you become a professor and scientist?
I was trained to be a scientist when I was very young. This had something to do with the ideology in China and my family’s influence. My parents are typical bookworms (especially my mother), natural-born scientists. I grew up and automatically thought I am a scientist. I was expected not to be interested in anything other than science.
Meanwhile, I had to confess that there were many other non-scientific things I was interested in. I loved to watch and direct stage dramas (China was very good at it and I did not have to be pretty to be a director!). In university, I spent much time in the library digging out famous directors’ notes to read and losing track of time and accidentally missing classes. This was forbidden in my family. Besides, I felt extremely guilty reading such literature because it was not science and was considered a waste of time. After several months, I had to give it up.
When I began working, I still encountered many things interesting out of engineering. For example, I like some Ted Talks on various topics. It gave me the kind of “high” feeling, but I had no time for detail. I always told myself when I had time, I would... So I constantly struggled with this urge to do something other than science but kept postponing it.
How does cancer give you a new life?
The first 2.5 years after being diagnosed, I couldn’t function. Although cancer was a big hit, more detrimental was living without a career (working was the only thing that I knew how to do). I was so lost and depressed.
I then picked up those “old hobbies” that I never had time to do. I listened to 3 Ted Talks about how to become an effective leader1-3. They have always inspired me. Last November was Lung Cancer Awareness Month and I used those 3 Ted Talks as motivation to come up with strategies to fundraise. I am proud to say I successfully raised $17,130 (USD) in 1 month4. During fundraising, I ran into questions like how much of a donation had to be used as overheads. So I wrote an article in response to these questions about donations and overhead.
Cancer is horrible. But sometimes I think cancer gave me a 2nd chance to fulfill my other dreams.
Would you change your career?
No! I loved my career before becoming sick. It’s exciting to do research, write papers, get funding to do cutting-edge research, and train undergraduate and graduate students. Once you are in research and teaching, you are kind of sucked into it. It requires devotion and commitment. Research also requires a certain capability to think critically. I dedicated my blood, sweat, and tears to my career, never regret those years of dedication. But having cancer is like God is giving me a choice to live my life in a different way. I am definitely seizing the opportunity and not wasting it.
Do you participate in awareness month activities?