18 June 2007

Love What You Do

I found out a couple of days ago, that one of the little girls in Ms Five's pre-school class lost her mother to breast cancer last month.

It breaks my heart in so many ways. First, of course, is this sweet little girl and her sisters who now have no mama. Then I wonder what must it have been like to be that mama and know that you are leaving, that won't see your little girls grow up. I'm not sure which is worse.

She was only 37, this little girl's mama, and that hits close to home. Too close. That's how old I'll be next month. 37 years doesn't seem like nearly so long a time on Earth as it did a week ago.

Finally, it isn't helping matters to know, thanks to the job I love so much, that this woman's death places a kind of curse on her daughters. To die so young from breast cancer means that very likely she carried a genetic susceptibility to the disease. Her daughters may carry it too, increasing the chances that they will get breast cancer themselves. That seems terribly unfair.

However - oddly and unexpectedly - the death of this woman has made me appreciate how important my job is. No, I will not personally find the cure for cancer. But dammit, if I can help the people I work for to write a better grant or explain their results more clearly and if that ultimately leads to something that changes the odds for those little girls, then I'll have done something with my life.

It's weird that it feels so personal now.

Or maybe it isn't.

It's not just data anymore. It's not just numbers of cases and controls. It's not just a line in a table that says 'first degree relative with cancer'. It's not just a bunch of random gene names and odds ratios and confidence intervals.

It's one little girl, and her sisters and their mama. That's what it's about now.

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