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One of the Best Decisions of My Life

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When I started graduate school, I knew I wanted to do sickle cell anemia research. My mother, three brothers and sister possess the trait, and I have two cousins who are living with the disease. Sickle cell is a condition that I am very passionate about because it affects a lot of people close to me. I was crushed when it came time for me to pick a lab to do research in because my school didn’t have any professors doing basic research in sickle cell anemia. I was left with finding a lab in which I could see myself getting along with my mentor and I could graduate within a reasonable time. I happened to join the lab of a young faculty member who was studying prostate cancer. That was one of the best decisions of my life.

I currently research the role of a drug that is currently on the market for type II diabetes that could be used for the prevention and possibly the treatment of prostate cancer. I’ve been to conferences where cancer survivors have shared their stories of their battle to overcome this terrible disease. It’s not an experience I would wish on my worst enemy. 



Before I joined that lab, I had no idea the disease afflicted so many people worldwide. Although cancer isn’t prevalent in my family (I don’t know of one person on either side of my family who has had cancer. *knocks on wood*), there have been a lot of people I know and family of close friends who have been diagnosed with various forms of cancer. In the past couple weeks I’ve learned of six different diagnoses ranging from prostate cancer to colon cancer. It’s easy to assume that cancer is one of those diseases that isn’t that common, but one would be wrong to assume that. According to the American Cancer Society, other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. In 2012, about 241,740 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed and approximately 28,170 men will die of prostate cancer. About one man in six will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. One in six, not one in sixty.

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Cancer isn’t one of those diseases that only old people get. The age-range for men at most risk for developing testicular cancer is 15-35. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is usually detected in children, with a peak age range of 3-5 years of age and osteosarcomas are more common in teenagers (more prevalent in males).

Even with all these statistics, Congress is ready to propose cuts that would drastically reduce cancer research (NIH, FDA and CDC) as well research focused on other health disparities. As of January 2, 2013 our country will officially hit the “fiscal cliff” and a $1.1 trillion cut that will be split between defense and nondefense discretionary funding.

What does this mean? The National Institutes of Health (NIH; the primary research institution in this country) will fund 2300 fewer grants. Grants that people like me depend on for my research and to pay my salary. That’s 2300 fewer chances for a cure for a disease. Instead of finding a way to vote bipartisan and avoid the fiscal cliff, Congress would rather play election year stalemate filibuster games.

Do you know anyone who’s had a battle with cancer? How did you deal with it? How do you feel about Congress potentially making major cuts to healthcare funding? Have you donated to cancer research? If so, what organizations have you donated through?

Comment(34)

  1. Awesome!

    I used to work in cancer research as well, purifying heat shock proteins and studying their ability to produce an immune response against ‘abnormal’ cells.. Particularly glioblastomas..

    But changed career goals and now do community health and prevention services for the African American community via churches. Via my church ministry we provide health education and provide screening services for breast and prostate cancer. I’ve worked for American Cancer Society and have been a donor for years, by participating in Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and Relay for Life.

    My grandfather is a 5 year survivor of prostate cancer, primarily because of early detection, and excellent medical care. African Americans tend to die from cancer more than other racial groups mainly because of not being screened or not having adequate healthcare coverage.

    It would devastate me not to have my granddad still be in my life and so I’m so grateful for the care he recieved. He is also a donor to American Cancer Society (which by the way supports scientific research as well as provides services to cancer patients).

    Thanks for writing about this and raising the issue.

    1. i hate working with anything that has to do with the brain so more power to you. great job on the outreach services that you've been doing. its really needed because black people (especially men) tend to not go to the doctor until its too late.

      that's what's up on your grandfather. i've been trying to get my dad to go more often because he's getting up there (over 60). in the next 4-5 years i'm going to start getting my blood checked for high PSA levels as well. i've heard news of 3 people in the last year under 40 being diagnosed with prostate cancer.
      My recent post Why Are We So Ok With Mediocrity?

  2. Good post Tunde. Cancer and other health disparities are a real issue in this country. I appreciate the work you and others are doing to help eleviate these issues. It would really be devastating if Congress decides not to fund the necessary research needed in this country. It so sad how healthcare and research seems to be so "second nature" in this country when it's so much needed for us to really progress in the right direction into the future.

    1. "It so sad how healthcare and research seems to be so "second nature" in this country when it's so much needed for us to really progress in the right direction into the future."

      thing is along with healthcare and research other essential (well at least to me) areas are also being ignored or put on the back burner. areas such as education.
      My recent post Why Are We So Ok With Mediocrity?

  3. I'm not in the medical industry, but when getting my personal training certification, we had to read about cancer. I was absolutely floored when I learned how high a person's chance is developing cancer: 44% for men, 38% for women. Really? A man has a slightly better than 50-50 chance of avoiding the disease?

    Everyone knows someone who has died from cancer. Tunde is absolutely correct about cancer not having an age-range: the three-year old son of a friend of mine succumbed to it. One day, we'll finally defeat it.

  4. Great post here. My grandmother beat cancer a while back.

    I've donated to the American Cancer Society and the Susan B. Komen foundation via running races or walking (Relay for Life and Race for the Cure, respectively).

    "How do you feel about Congress potentially making major cuts to healthcare funding?"

    Hard to take one step forward when something is forcing you two steps back that is out of your control. Hopefully a reasonable compromise can be made before the end of the year, but I'm not overly confident considering the politics revolved around this year.

  5. my condolences to you and your family. pancreatic cancer has one of the worst survival rates. unlike prostate cancer where there are tests like digital rectal exams and markers like PSA pancreatic cancer is very difficult to detect early. screenings are key to catching a lot of diseases (not just cancer) early.
    My recent post Why Are We So Ok With Mediocrity?

    1. Thanks man! Yeah, that's what his oncologist told us. Once he got a definitive diagnosis, it was starting to spread (I can't think of medical word for that) to his bladder. So it wasn't much that could be done. It was more or less they did what they could to make it easier for us to accept and more comfortable for him you know?

      SB: will you ever get to go back to sickle cell research? Or w/ medicine, you can only research what's offered at the university you're accepted to? Just curious
      My recent post Hard Knocks ep. 2 recap

  6. Very good article Tunde. My grandfather had breast cancer, and my aunt had it as well. I've had "pre-cancer cells and had to have them frozen off.
    Our family dealt with it by getting the best treatment we could get for as long as we could. After my grandfathers cancer came back as bone cancer he refused treatment because he was pissed that the chemo didn't work the first time and the cancer came back and spread throughout his body.

  7. My aunt refused it towards the end as well. I remember them saying the chemo made them too sick and not able to function. They wanted to just live however long they lived doing as much as they could until they died. So thats what they did. Healthcare like everything else in the U.S. is a business. They are cutting funding to go to other things they think are more important. Unfortunately we are at the mercy of the government and pharmacuetical companies when it comes to healthcare. They will fund whatever they think is most important, not necessarily what is. Or they will say there are so many things that they cannot afford to fully fund them all. I've given to the American Cancer Society and I've sponsered my girlfriend who does marathons for Susan G. Korman's race for the cure.

  8. My grandmom is 91 and the only illness she has is an allergy to Glutton and Osteoarthritis. She has completely changed her diet to glutton free, all organic and all natural and lives by herself and gets around as well as I do. She reads a lot of medical journals and books. She says a lot of these diseases like cancer are caused by chemicals in the processed foods we eat and the products farmers use on their crops. I agree. I think the more people change their diets and if they don't do factory work where they are exposed to harmful chemicals they will be ok.
    My grandfather was a very healthy eater, but he worked for Scott Paper Co. for over 40 years working with the dyes that went on the papertowels and toilet paper and napkins and packaging the products. I believe that is how is cancer started.

    1. funny you say this about the food we eat. one of my best friends does colon cancer research. more specifically she focuses on Benzo(a)pyrene which is found in a lot of charred meat (think bbq and burnt toast) and how it contributes to the rise of colon cancer. she works on a compound called resveratrol and how it inhibits the cancer.
      My recent post Why Are We So Ok With Mediocrity?

      1. I really believe that with the right diet and in the best environment you can be healthy as a horse and never have to worry about cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and the other illnesses that seem to befall on black people. It's all in what we eat. I swear by that Eat This Not That book.

    2. Yeah your grandmom is telling nothing but the truth! One of my favorite website and physician is http://www.mercola.com. Dr. mercola speaks the truth about everything when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. I have an uncle who is 70 years old and lives a healthy lifestyle such as grandmom. My uncle is not overweight, has had no diseases/illnesses, and if it wasn't for his grey hair, he could easily pass for 35 or 40. I am definitely #AboutThatHealthyLife!

  9. Just curious. Do you still plan (want) to get involved in the research for sickle cell? How big of a jump is it from working with cancer. I mean, I know its a completely different area, but is it even a possibility?

    I know when I was in school, I had a similar problem. There was one area that I had envisioned working in for a LONG time. I get to school and all of a sudden one of the guys who I wanted to work with left and the other was just an arrogant prick so I was forced to make a decision to basically do something so I could get out. But I tried to stay close enough to my real interests that so that if I chose to (which I ultimately did), I'd be able to do the stuff I really wanted to do.
    My recent post Learn Math Through Set Relations

  10. "How did you deal with it?" I don't.

    "How do you feel about Congress potentially making major cuts to healthcare funding?" I don't think I care. I don't see the direct impact on my life: I'm insured for another three years which is quite irrelevent because I don't even go to the doctor. I believe the body will care for itself when you let nature run its course and I tend to opt for holistic healing methods. In the event I get pregnant I've already chosen our healthcare plans. I'm not worried about our companies. At all. My job and my money aren't dependent on this legislation or any institution impacted by it. I feel secure. What I'm worried about, I chose a package with this complicated tax stuff. I have no idea how to decipher it nor have I ever filed taxes nor do I even know what a tax form looks like. I figured, when the time rolls around I'll give myself something to do figuring it out. I'm concerned about the uber amount of paperwork. Are you concerned about losing your job? Are you doing independent research outside of your job?

  11. Father was diagnosed with cancer (lung) a few years ago. Scariest time of my life (they eventually cut it out and he’s been *knock on wood* cancer free 3yrs + now). I’m just happy to hear anyone anywhere is doing research. Definitely changes your whole perspective when something finally hits home versus reading about it from other’s experiences.

    Keep up the good work.

      1. The good thing about only reading comments on Friday's is that my initial reactions are tapered. His Father had cancer. You research cancer. I've been sitting in my house by myself for two months staring at the moles on my skin convincing myself it's completely fine. You're right. I don't know anyone with cancer. This post didn't hit close to home at all. I'm glad I can pull off a jaded comment. My mind's in the right place and seeing as how the healthcare apocalypse is going to happen next year, it would do me some good to think exactly how I am right now. You on the other hand….

        Need a reality check.

  12. great post, T!

    its so important to talk about the importance of biomedical research. as voters, ppl need to be aware of it so they can support legislators who are going to vote to INCREASE funding for research. you can't say "cancer sucks" or "fuck cancer" if you arent willing to put your vote where your mouth is. even more than that, we have to hold our legislators accountable and urge them to support NIH/NSF.

    while you're curing cancer, i'll be curing ADHD. tag team this science shit 🙂
    My recent post Nowhere Left to Go But UP!

  13. Cancer doesn't run in my family so I haven't been personally affected by cancer. But over the years I've had friends & family friends deal with loved ones who battled the disease. Last year one of my good friends lost her cousin to leukemia. This year, I decided to join my friend in raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through Team In Training. It was an amazing experience – training with ppl who had lost family or friends, and even some survivors of blood cancers. I learned so much & it was a very humbling experience. One of the great things I learned was how much $$$ Leukemia & Lymphoma Society spends on research for new treatments, and how much of a difference they've made for ppl stricken with blood cancers.

  14. My grandma died of pancreatic cancer. One day. she's complaining about not feeling well, 6 months later, we're burying her in the family plot. I support all cancer research. And while I've chosen to no longer support Komen. I will continue to donate to other causes for the fight against cancer. I'm glad you chose this field. The more people researching, the better. We can fight this.

  15. Amazing post Tunde, and amazing how God led you to prostate cancer research at our school… amazing how He can lead life in a different direction from what we "want", and AMAZING that it ended up being the best thing that could've happened for you. Crazy how things work out, you're def going to do something big in the future. Until Sept 11, 2010, I had lived life without having cancer affect me personally. But on that day, my mom was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. The kind that isn't easily detected by mammogram, that was missed by her ob/gyn, and only found because of an area of thickened skin her mammogram tech felt, & a highly skilled radiologist that read the results.

    How did I deal? It was terrible. I ended up taking the year off from medical school after she had a lot of complications from her chemo, which later had to be stopped mid-treatment. But I tried to be strong for her, and for my father and brother. I went home to help care for her, and would do it all over again if I had to. That experience is actually a big part of my decision to go into OB//GYN, as I hope to snag a Gyn Onc fellowship one day.

    I think it's deplorable that Congress is trying to make cuts to healthcare funding. My parents do well for themselves, have great insurance, go to the doctor as they are supposed to, and this still happened to us. What about those that can't afford "great" insurance? Or who show up to the doctor after the cancer has metastasized, and need the most expensive treatments etc? It's all about prevention, and therefore funding is vital. I swear cancer is like when you get a new car… you never noticed it as much before, but once you get it, it's like every one around you is driving the same exact one. It shows up everywhere. This is not the time for funding to be cut, but to be increased.

    I've absolutely donated, even more now that we've been affected by it. Relay for Life, Race for the Cure, etc. I hope in my career to help in some way, because it is a terrible disease and something that I don't wish upon anyone to have to deal with. I commend you for all that you do, and look forward to seeing where your career takes you! 🙂

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