Dear Women@NASA Loyal Readers:
As I am sure you have noticed, it’s been a while since we have written. Numerous excuses aside, I am eager to keep this blog going. So, I hope you check back as often as you have in the past! Today, I had a vision for this blog. I decided why must we only honor women in history during one month out of the year? Why not showcase their work and respect them year round? And that’s exactly what I am going to do! I shall call it our “Women in History Shout Out” and post at least one every week. It’s meant to be short and informative. A quote, a one to two liner about her, and a picture. Hope you enjoy!
“I have frequently been questioned, especially by women, of how I could reconcile family life with a scientific career. Well, it has not been easy.”
Marie Curie (1867 – 1934) was a physicist and chemist who made major discoveries in the field of radioactivity. She was the first person to win two Nobel Prizes and the University of Paris’ first female professor.
“I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in We, the people.”
(1936 – 1996) American lawyer, politician and teacher. She served in the Texas Senate (1967–1973) and in the U.S. House of Representatives (1973-1979).
“All adventures, especially into new territory, are scary.” – Sally Ride
(1951- ) Former astronaut and first American woman in space. Dr. Sally Ride was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1978 and flew for the first time in 1983. After retiring from the astronaut corp, Dr. Ride joined the University of Califorinia at San Diego as a professor and started her own organization called Sally Ride Science to encourage young girls to enter science, math, technology, and engineering fields.
“I am alive by the grace of God and biomedical research.”, said Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro as she addressed an audience of 50 or so of the brightest young minds who strive towards finding The Cure and the experience of many doctors who have taken such strides to decreasing cancer-linked mortality rates. She is a survivor of my greatest fear and next month marks her 26th year of remission. Congratulations, Congresswoman DeLauer.
Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) seminar marking last year’s 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s declaration of the War on Cancer with the signing of the National Cancer Act of 1971. As a scientist, I know first hand how difficult it is to find such a cure to something so vicious. So ever changing. So dependent on the person who is afflicted. Smarter than any Apple product. As a human, I am baffled how we have turned HIV from inevitable death to chronic illness in less time than the length of this raging war. Yet, the numbers speak for themselves in representing significant strides towards a cure. The oncological advances have made it possible for 12 million Americans to be living today, after fighting and winning their own battles. From 1990-2007, the death rate due to cancer decreased by 22% for men and 14% for women, some 900,000 fewer deaths. Childhood cancer survival rate went from 50% in 1975 to 80% today. These numbers are real. These numbers are due to the money we put into research. The scary part is that as we cut spending in government, we are also having to cut dollars towards scientific research. The domino effect of budget cuts could have catastrophic repercussions on the significant life-saving trends we have worked so diligently towards. My hope is that Congress listens to the AACR and the members who supported this seminar in protecting dollars that go towards finding a cure. Or that they heard Dr. Ros Meyer’s story and got those good-feeling goose bumps like I did. Like when she talked about her stage 4 metastatic melanoma. 56 years old and 3 children. A small pea-sized bump below her ear. No other signs that anything was wrong. Certainly not that the small bump paled in comparison to the ravenous cancer spreading across her body. In 2005, there were no FDA-approved treatments that had success in her state. So she decided to enter an NIH-funded clinical trial that was using what was termed “adoptive immunotherapy”, which took immune fighting white cells that were working in her body, cloned them, and then put them back into her. In 2005, the method failed but she was lucky enough to be one of the 4% who survived via the FDA-approved method. Then 2008. Dozens of tumors came back. The NIH trial was continuuing and the efforts the research had made in refining the method proved useful for Dr. Meyer. It worked and by March of 2009, all but one tumor was gone. That last morsel was removed via surgery and today, she is fighting cancer so we don’t have to go through that. Through the pain. The not-knowing. The fear. Fear of sleeping for not waking up. Fear of not meeting grandchildren. Fear of the end. We must fund research. We must advance. And we must believe.
“Luck should not be a determination of whether you live or die.”-Congresswoman DeLauer
One of the panel members, Dr. Geoffrey Wahl, made an analogy that instantly made sense to me. He said that we need to find the cholesterol of cancer. What did he mean? Well, the incidence of myocardial infarctions decreased significantly since cardiologists started using cholesterol as a marker for heart disease. It became a measurement for risk, a successful target for drugs, and a preventative recipe for good health. Cholesterol represents the big three for disease: prevention, detection, and treatment. I will eagerly track cancer research in hopes they find their own cholesterol.
From successful completion of the Human Genome sequencing to applying such technology to sequencing tumors, cancer research has taken big moon steps towards finding the cure. We must continue to fund this research for our children. Our parents. Sisters and brothers. Friends and loved ones. We must find the cure in honor of those who survived. And in memory of those who didn’t.
I am not even sure what to do with myself. I can’t believe how many things are in the news that I am positive you will want to know. For my third post in one day, I must tell you about this story: The President of the United States has nominated Air Force Lt. Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger for a promotion to a four star general. The first four starred female general in the Air Force. Way to go, Lt. Gen Wolfenbarger.
Now I don’t know too much about the military, but I am fairly certain my excitement is appropriate for this news.
Although, I guess I am also fairly surprised this hasn’t already happened… This is often my reaction to the many news stories I see about the “first female to…”. I somehow manage to remind myself that now is better than never. And to stop wondering why it took this long.
I used to hang out at Janice’s house as a co-op. She was an active astronaut at that time and one of my closest friends was renting a room from her. You can, thus, only imagine the shock with which I took the news of her passing Tuesday overnight, losing her battle to cancer at the young age of 55.
That’s two people we have lost to cancer this week, just mere days after I posted about funding cancer research. I doubt I need to be more clear.
Here’s to fighting the fight. May you rest in peace, Janice. You will be missed.
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“More women should demand to be involved. It’s our right. This is one area where we can get in on the ground floor and possibly help to direct where space exploration will go in the future.” – Dr. Mae Jemison
(1956- ) American physician and former astronaut who became the first African-American woman in space in 1992. She left NASA in 1993 to start her own company on adapting technology to daily life.
“…Now and then women should do for themselves what men have already done – occasionally what men have not done–thereby establishing themselves as persons, and perhaps encouraging other women toward greater independence of thought and action. Some such consideration was a contributing reason for my wanting to do what I so much wanted to do.” -Amelia Earhart
(1897-Unknown)-Ms. Amelia Earhart was the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic, May 20-21, 1932. The aircraft crew’s flight made headlines around the world since three women had perished within the same year attempting to be the first woman to accomplish such a feat. When the crew returned to the US, they were greeted with a fitting ticker-tape parade in New York City and a reception hosted by President Calvin Coolidge at the White House. It was, indeed, a momentous occasion. Ms. Earhart, among other notable recognitions, was also the first woman to make a solo round trip of the United States. Sadly, Ms. Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared on July 2, 1937 over the Pacific Ocean while on an around-the-world flight. A national rescue attempt was instigated immediately, according to the official Amelia Earhart website. It remains the most extensive air and sea search in naval history. On July 19, despite $4 million spent and 250,000 square miles of ocean scoured, the US government reluctantly retreated.
Sources: Amelia Earhart Official Website and National Park Service
“It was Franklin’s photographic skills that made the discovery possible.She could take photographs of crystals… and interpret the patterns…a particular genius at aligning hand and mind.” – Brenda Maddox on Rosalind Franklin, Author of Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA
(1920-1958) Dr. Rosalind Franklin was a British scientist with notable recognitions, the most famous of which was her X-ray crystallography images of DNA. Together with James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins, they discovered the building block of life in 1953. The three men shared a Nobel Prize in 1962, an award that cannot be claimed posthumously. Dr. Franklin succumbed to ovarian cancer in 1958 at the young age of 37.
Sources: NPR, NIH, and PBS