From Researcher to Cancer Patient to Cancer Researcher

From Researcher to Cancer Patient to Cancer Researcher

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“Most cancer blogs I have read start with ‘I never planned to write a cancer blog.’ Neither did I.  No one ever plans to have cancer, much less write about it.” 

Dr. De Vera on her now-retired cancer blog, maryfullofgrace

 On this February 4th, World Cancer Day, I am honoured to kick off the new Canadian Association for Population Therapeutics guest blog series and share a bit of my journey from researcher to cancer patient to cancer researcher, one that was recently featured in an article by the Globe and Mail, and a video produced by the University of British Columbia.

Doing research on ‘my’ cancer (colorectal) was nowhere in my mind when I was diagnosed, or when I was undergoing treatment. It was a decision that I thought about, sought wisdom and advice on, and one that actually catalyzed by my now-retired blog, maryfullofgrace.

Yes, I was once a blogger. The type no one wants to be – a cancer blogger. A graphic blog about ileostomies, including the uncensored account of me realizing that I was going to be seeing my intestine outside of my body, to a thoughtful blog about being a parent (to a then 3-year old and 1-year) old while undergoing cancer treatment would be injected with synthesized evidence. Although these blogs took a lot of time, I did it because I needed a place to let everyone know how I was doing, a place to park my fears and anxieties, and a place where I could expend the energy I was not expending on work and my research – as I was told (by my Dean) that my job was to beat cancer.

That said, I couldn’t take the researcher out of my being a blogger, and I couldn’t take the epidemiologist out of my being a patient. I was doing demographics in my head – noticing that I was always an “n of 1” in terms of my age category.  Between not being able to turn these switches off and recognizing the unsustainability of a blog with my mom as my only audience, I started to question whether my writing time would be better spent on other things. So, instead of writing blogs, I started writing research questions. I began by googling, “scientists who research their own disease.” I also found inspiration from others doing incredible work, including those with colorectal cancer researching colorectal cancer, and I sought advice from colleagues and mentors.

As an epidemiologist who has worked with administrative health databases in both British Columbia (BC) and Quebec, we certainly have the resources and capacity to address research questions on young onset colorectal cancer using real world evidence. Indeed, linking administrative health data from Population Data BC on outpatient visits and hospitalizations with BC PharmaNet data on all prescriptions with BC Cancer Registry data forms the basis of my CIHR-funded Project Grant to study the contemporary epidemiology, treatment and outcomes of young onset colorectal cancer.

The emphasis on patient-oriented research in Canada has also facilitated this research in terms of connecting me to patient organizations and networks to support this research as patient research partners. This is important as even though this has been inspired by my patient journey, my role now is researcher, and keeping the research grounded and informed by patient needs and priorities is why I am excited to have partnered with Colorectal Cancer Canada for my online survey study on the information needs of patients and survivors of colorectal cancer.  By the way, we are very close to our goal of having over 1,000 responses so please help us share:

As with being a cancer blogger, I never planned to be a cancer researcher and although my blogging days are mostly over – save for a guest blog or two – I have a long research career to go.


Dr. Mary De Vera is a pharmacoepidemiologist and assistant professor in medication adherence in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of British Columbia. Dr. De Vera completed a BSc degree in biochemistry at UBC and MSc and PhD degrees in health care and epidemiology from the UBC School of Population and Public Health, as well as post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences and UBC’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. (Credit: University of British Columbia, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences)