Why did you specialize in breast cancer?
People in medicine often develop a passion to tackle what they fear or have strong feelings about. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was a first-year medical student. I went with her to all her appointments and read everything I could about the disease. I then had three cousins diagnosed before 50, and one died in her 40s. I really tried to choose a more balanced career path, but I kept coming back to oncology as something I felt I had to pursue.
Was there a moment when you knew you had chosen the right field?
My first rotation as an intern was inpatient oncology at UW. I would come home at 11 every night a wreck after witnessing the injustice of cancer. I had already decided there was no way I could ever be an oncologist. At the end of the rotation, I was saying good-bye, and a 27-year-old woman with metastatic breast cancer said as her parting words, “You really should be an oncologist—you would be good at it.” I thanked her and told her I really didn’t think I could do that, but I was sure grateful for the time I’d spent with her. I forgot all about that moment until a couple of years ago.
What are you most hopeful about in research or treatment?
We are on the threshold of a new era in our understanding of breast cancer. Seventeen years ago, during my fellowship, I remember feeling like I actually understood breast cancer; sort of like looking at an onion and thinking you understand its anatomy by looking at the outer layer. Now we are beginning to unravel the fundamental biology of breast cancer and pathways by which cancer cells acquire treatment resistance. If we can understand enough about these pathways, great strides can be made in prevention and treatment.