This blog is a collaborative effort between the Foundation for Student Science and Technology (formerly the Canadian Young Scientist Journal) and Science.gc.ca. Our aim is to offer an interactive platform where Canadian students can talk about their passions, challenges and ideas on how to further pursue scientific interests and education. We welcome new contributors -- if you are interested please contact us at information@science.gc.ca.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Growing up, science, especially biology, had always interested me.

Originally Published: May 4, 2015
Written by Sarina Lalla

Growing up, science, especially biology, had always interested me. However, my science story really took off when I was 14 years old. That was the year I actually had biology as a subject for the first time, and I was in awe. The human body and its effectiveness, and the fact that it was almost like a machine fascinated me. However, more importantly, that was also the year that my mother decided that I was old enough to learn about her story.

When my mother was nineteen years old, she was diagnosed with stage 4B Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Can you imagine being in your first year of college and finding out that you have cancer? That you’ll have to spend the year in a hospital exposed to chemicals that’ll make you sick? That you’ll have to walk around your school, trying to catch up on classes you had to miss, all while having a bald head from chemotherapy that’ll make everybody stare at you? I most certainly cannot. However, my mom fought through it and stayed positive no matter what, and I admire her so much for that. However, the suffering that she endured from her cancer did not go away after she went into remission. Even today, she suffers from side effects from chemotherapy. Listening to my mother’s story, sharing her pain and knowing that there are thousands of other people in Canada that go through this and sometimes don’t survive woke me up. From that day on, I vowed to make a difference in the world of cancer through scientific research and hopefully by becoming an oncologist.

That summer, I was selected for a youth internship program at the Institut National de Recherche Scientifique where I studied a protein seen in aggressive breast cancers, Galectin-7. I studied the different transcription factors that inhibited or promoted its production with a brilliant researcher. That was definitely the experience of a lifetime for me, as it was the first time I actually got to work in a lab setting professionally, and working with cancers was unbelievable.

Since then, I have wanted to push my research further, not only for cancer, but for general human physiology. So, I decided to pursue a career in science and am currently studying Health Sciences at Cégep Gérald-Godin, where I spend 3-4 hours in a lab every week.
In terms of current projects, I have co-organized two studies on mental health over the past couple of years, and I spent last summer learning about medicine and health care by attending life-changing conferences at UC Berkeley and University of Toronto. I was exposed to a lot of hands-on experience that will be useful to me in the future. Some other projects I am organizing at the moment are looking quite bright: I will be spending this summer organizing a study on the effectiveness of blister packs versus pill bottles for adherence to prescriptions. I also intend to travel to Costa Rica for a biology research project next winter with my cégep.

I definitely haven’t forgotten about my cancer dream, though! I’ve been focusing my time on organizing and attending fundraisers for cancer research, benefitting the Canadian Cancer Society, The Cedars Cancer Institute in Montreal, and The Lymphoma and Leukemia Society of Canada. I just recently cut 10 inches of my hair to donate for wigs given to cancer patients. I have also been volunteering at the oncology clinic of my local hospital. Seeing patients with smiles on their faces even through intensive treatment just brightens my day, and I hope that one day, I contribute to finding a cure and make patients stop suffering. This one’s for you, Mom.

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