AAUW Fellow on the Path to Curing CancerMarch 15, 2013
Monday was an emotional day for me, at once stirring memories of deep sadness and generating a sense of personal celebration. I learned of a breakthrough cancer study that has ignited a virtual firestorm of media attention. Christina Gamba, a medical student and former AAUW Selected Professions fellow, was lead author on the Stanford research team that studied health habits of 60,000 Caucasian women. Drawing from data collected by the Women’s Health Initiative and led by senior author Jean Tang, the researchers found that women who took aspirin two or more times a week had a 21 percent lower incidence of the dreaded skin cancer melanoma. This finding adds to the growing body of evidence indicating that aspirin may have some real anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties.
This news is particularly poignant for me, a second-generation AAUW member, because an AAUW fellowship supported this amazing young scientist’s research. Like so many others at AAUW, I am absolutely thrilled that we contributed to work that may save many lives.
The terrifying specter of melanoma has haunted me for decades. I supported my graduate education at the University of Virginia by working in the Department of Plastic Surgery, where too many patients faced a diagnosis of advanced metastatic malignant melanoma. For most who came to UVA, time was too short — including my dear friend and classmate Marla. She was funny, young, and smart, with a bright future cut tragically short by a dark mole on her arm that grew fast and that surgery couldn’t cure. The death of a wonderful young woman — my age, my friend — brought home for me the devastation of this disease.
Fortunately, treatments are much better now, and if caught early, the prognosis for melanoma is good. But there is a huge difference between having a terrifying diagnosis and never having to face it at all. Gamba and her colleagues have changed the equation from “is my cancer treatable?” to an aspirin regimen that may actually prevent those at higher risk from ever having to ask the question.
I am so proud that AAUW has had a role in this remarkable research and in helping Gamba, a woman who is having such a dramatic impact on the future of medical care and melanoma.