By: Catherine H. Saunders
Christine is the youngest patient associate on our What Matters Most team. She’s also the most recent breast cancer survivor; her surgery was only two years ago. Christine is unique among our patient associates; in addition to being a cancer survivor, she is a trained researcher. She has nearly 15 years of experience working in population health research.
She brings both these identities with her to the clinic when she works with the patients who enroll in our study.
She can uniquely relate to patients’ experiences
Christine helps patients understand our study — its benefits and drawbacks — often in the very same room where she had her initial cancer surgical consultation — room 7.
“I know [...] when we see them it’s so close to the beginning. [...] Especially meeting them right before the surgical consult, which is typically what kicks everything off anyway, [...] I can remember that feeling. [...] I’ll tell the patient I was right there where you’re sitting.”
She finds the in-between moments most meaningful, things like a “knowing look” between her and a patient or a laugh about how often the women need to don pink exam gowns.
She’s also particularly attuned to their feelings
Part of doing responsible, ethical research is making it clear to potential participants that being a part of a study is completely optional. Because Christine has been in their shoes, she finds that patients are relieved when she reassures them that our study really is optional. And completely up to them.
“If somebody is not sure if they want to do this - or they are looking uncertain [...] - I’ll say: Hey, I understand. We all understand this is a crazy time for you and you have a lot of questions. So if this doesn’t feel like the right thing for you don’t feel like you have to say yes. Take your time. We get it.”
She also knows when they might need a little extra help, like some resources. She makes great use of the study resource packet for her site, Washington University in St. Louis. She lets women know that she has personal experience with breast cancer and shares some of the resources she used.
But she’s still a scientist at heart
Christine has enjoyed working with patients as a part of the What Matters Most trial, but she’s very much looking forward to the next steps. She wants to know what we’ll find and what matters most for other women with early-stage breast cancer. And for future research.
Although, she also fears she will miss interacting with patients every week. She’s thinking about exploring other options to continue her role as a patient advocate after the trial is complete.
Christine, our participants are lucky to have you. And the patients you help as an advocate in the future will be, too.
Thanks for being such a hard-working researcher and an unwavering patient voice.