Greetings from RDville: Finding meaning

It’s been a while since I’ve done an RDville post, mostly because my job search has had more twists and turns than a suspense novel. 
For the past month, I’ve known where I was going to land, jobwise, but I didn’t arrive at this job in the traditional way. In other words, there was no job posting, and I was never told “You’re hired, when can you start?” Rather, it began as an expression of mutual interest, followed by a “getting to know each other” period, followed by a goodly amount of due diligence to make sure the arrangement was going to work for all parties concerned.
Since this has been such a gradual process (a process that’s not quite done), I was having a hard time choosing the right time to announce it on this blog. But I think this week is a good time for a “soft” announcement, if you will. I’ll be joining Northwest Natural Health in Ballard, working with three naturopathic physicians. One of their primary areas of focus is cancer treatment, offering complementary medicine to patients undergoing conventional medical treatment.
I’m not seeing patients yet (they’ve started a wait list), because I’m not yet set up to bill insurance and I’m still undergoing training. I’m learning about cancer, how it’s diagnosed, conventional and complementary treatment protocols, drug-nutrient interactions, and so on. Some of the information is review, some of it is new to me, and it’s all very interesting.
One area of nutrition that grabbed my attention before I even started grad school was the intersection of our genes, our diet and our environment, particularly as it relates to cancer risk. It’s still an area that fascinates me, and I am excited to have a professional reason to keep up with that area of ever-evolving research.
Aside from the thrill of satisfying my geek brain, I deeply look forward to helping people use the food on their plate to prevent and treat cancer, as well as to not just survive, but thrive. This desire unexpectedly took on another layer of meaning this weekend.
I was thinking about one of my former preceptors (internship supervisors). I hadn’t seen her since my internship ended toward the end of August, and I had noticed a posting for her job a few months ago. I figured she had moved on to a new position, and I decided to see what a Google search would turn up. I did not expect to find her obituary.
She was a kind, funny, smart, dynamic, multitalented woman, the kind of person who you like the moment you meet them. I only knew her for three weeks, but we spent time together every day, and one of the many topics we talked about between clients was her recent fight with breast cancer. She had short hair, in what looked like an intentional pixie cut, so I wouldn’t have known that it was growing out post-chemo unless she had told me.
Hers had been a serious fight, with no weapon left untried. Surgery, chemo, radiation, drug therapy, nutrition, exercise, yoga, meditation. During my time with her, a full-body scan had found no signs of lingering or returning cancer. She looked forward to having children with her husband of four years. She was active and positive and energetic. She should have had decades ahead of her, but four months and one week after I last saw her, she was dead. I don’t know exactly what happened, and I might never know. When did the cancer come back? How badly had it metastasized? Did she try to fight it again, or not? 
She was only 33 years old. Cancer is never fair, but her premature death feels epically, tragically unfair. Even more unfair? The fact that she first noticed a suspicious change in one breast when she was in her 20s and still in grad school, only to have a doctor dismiss her concerns, because “Women your age don’t get breast cancer.” When she was finally diagnosed years later, she contacted that clinic to let them know they were wrong. I keep thinking about how things might have been different if she’d pushed a little harder, or if she had happened to go to a doctor who knew full well that while breast cancer at that age is rare, it can happen.
As important as nutrition is in prevention and treatment of disease, early detection is also crucial. Any treatment – conventional, complementary, alternative, nutritional – has a better chance of working when disease isn’t allowed to progress unchecked. When it comes to preventive health screenings, ignorance is not bliss.