28 December 2009

A Look Back at 2009

"Look not outward but inward for the way is not in the sky but in the heart." -Buddha

With the year coming to a close, I find it only appropriate that this post is a reflection on the past year.  In terms of personal growth, this year has definitely been a big step.  I've pushed myself more this year than I ever have in the past, and in the process, realized that the most important success comes not from other people's validation of your actions, but from achieving goals you set for yourself and pushing yourself further than you think is possible.  The worst that can happen is not succeeding right away; the best is being able to say you did something you thought was impossible.

In October 2008, I fell down some bleachers and at the time, thought I had just bruised my knee a little bit.  I've been dealing with some other knee issues since late 2004, so initially, I attributed the increased pain to the fall aggravating everything else that is wrong with my knee.  However, once February rolled around and my knee was still in as much pain as it was in October, I found out that when I fell, I had landed in just the right spot to cause bursitis and a sprained PCL.  In short, my only option was to start physical therapy or risk not ever being able to march again- in my opinion, not even an option.
In June, when I was home and settled for summer break, I started physical therapy and a "light exercise" program that involved walking and a little bit of jogging- all my doctor would allow me to do, for fear of causing another injury.  For a few weeks, I spent about 30 mins every other day going for a little walk/jog; if I wanted to be prepared for the upcoming marching band season, I needed to exercise a little bit, and I had barely done anything of that sort since February.  Well, that was extremely short-lived, because as much as I've learned to push through pain, my physical therapist realized that my sudden return to exercising had caused me to develop shin splints.  All of a sudden, not only could I not run, but I was supposed to rest my legs as much as possible, and I would only be able to march later in the summer if I worked my way back into exercising slowly, without any other complications.  After going to PT 2-3 times a week for 2 months, I was finally cleared to start marching band at the end of August.  Though I was still experiencing some knee pain at that point, I realized that I had come far enough over the summer to be able to deal with it on my own.
Thankfully, I made it through the 2009 marching band season without having to sit out of any rehearsals or performances- the first season I have been able to do so since 2004.
But marching band is different than most other situations- I was able to push myself while surrounded by a close-knit bunch of supportive people.  Would I be able to find the same determination within myself in a different setting that would challenge me in the same way?
When the Big Chill 2009 (a 5K) rolled around, I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to see if I really could push myself without relying on others.  (Since I started having issues with my knee in 2004, my parents have not always been particularly supportive of my participation in activities that could cause exacerbation of my pain.  In that respect, this was something that I needed to do not only for myself, but to prove to them that I can make it through anything I decide I can.)  Since early June, I hadn't run at all; I was too afraid of developing shin splints again and being forced to stop marching before the end of the season.  Since that wasn't really an issue any more, I went ahead with this.  In a word, it was an amazing experience for me.  My goal was to finish in about an hour- I finished in just over 45 minutes- and although I walked a lot of it, I was able to run much more than I expected to.  Coming around the last corner of the course and crossing the finish line was almost overwhelming; I felt like I had really come as far as possible at that point from where I had started out in February.

This is one of my stories that has written itself over the past year.  I hope that you have written your own stories, learned some things along the way, and continue to achieve your goals in 2010.  Here's to a safe and happy new year.

07 November 2009

A Reflection.

As I finally set out last week to officially declare my majors, I started thinking about how I got to this point- why I chose to major in molecular biology, and why I have (at least for now) decided that my aspiration is to do research in the field of cancer.

I entered high school thinking that I would eventually become an English teacher, trying to figure out how many years I would have to wait before being allowed to take English electives, and dreading the fact that I needed to take 3 years of science and math courses. During middle school and the early years of high school, I spent "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" with my aunt, a 5th grade math teacher. Although I never envisioned myself teaching math, I loved the days when she would let me teach a lesson to her students, and really thought that one day, I would be the one in front of a classroom.

My freshman year biology teacher was the person who initially got me interested in science, although I'm pretty sure she had no idea at the time. At my high school, bio is a class normally taken by sophomores, so I was one of few freshman in the class and by all means the most overwhelmed with the transition to a high school workload. As difficult as I found the class initially, however, the material we covered in there and the way it was presented to us made me realize that science was something I could actually see myself doing in the future. (As somewhat of a side note, this particular teacher dropped out of college her first time around, and then returned to complete her degree. A large part of her teaching platform was making sure her students reached their full potential in every aspect of education. She was definitely the most influential teacher I had in high school.)

After gaining a lot more interest in science after my freshman year, I proceeded to take AP Bio and genetics the following two years. I had the same teacher for genetics as I'd had for "baby bio" as a freshman, and it was due in large part to conversations with this teacher and assignments from her class that made me realize I would be happy pursuing a career in research. In particular, our final project was to design a hypothetical experiment using genetic processes we had discussed throughout the year in order to attain a product that would somehow benefit people. I loved the entire process of designing this experiment, from researching various genes and lab techniques to writing up the protocol.

But there are so many different areas of research in genetics- why cancer?

Since the summer before my freshman year of high school, I have worked as a counselor at a local day camp. It's a very small camp- less than 30 staff members, most of whom return year after year. Everyone knows each other, and everyone knows the camp directors, who are very involved in the daily activities of the camp. At one point during my third summer there as a CIT (counselor in training), I saw the director sitting by the lake with another woman and a little girl, who was about 2 years old at the time. I noticed that the little girl had no hair and a feeding tube in her nose, but didn't think much of it and continued on with the rest of my summer.

The following summer, my first year as a "real" counselor, the camp directors hired my younger sister, then a CIT, to babysit their daughter. The summer after that (summer 2008), the camp directors' daughter was old enough to be a camper, and it was also the summer when I learned about Gracie. Since my sister was no longer babysitting the camp directors' kid, she spent a lot of her time that summer playing with Gracie, the directors' niece.

In 2008, Gracie was a beautiful 4 year old girl who loved to come to camp and play with her sister, cousins, and their friends. Although there are campers as young as 3 years old at this camp, Gracie's mom felt that she wasn't yet ready to be a camper. Gracie had some physical and developmental delays- and was in remission from a malignant brain tumor that she was diagnosed with at the age of 2. In spite of all this, she was a giggly, enthusiastic little girl who could always put a smile on your face. Even though she couldn't always keep up with the rest of the campers her age, she enjoyed the summer just the same.

In winter 2008, Gracie's cancer relapsed.

She spent much of the summer getting treatment and finally returned to camp a little more than halfway through the season. Even after going through a month of radiation and chemotherapy, she was still very outgoing and loved music and arts and crafts- but you could tell how her battle with cancer was taking its toll. She got tired out much more easily than even the previous summer, and spent significantly less time at camp. While other kids would draw pictures of their families or flowers during arts and crafts, the first picture Gracie drew with me last summer was of "Proton"- the facility that delivered her radiation treatment.

She'll be on chemotherapy for almost another year. However, the statistical 5-year survival rate for her type of cancer is only between 65-80%; somewhat less because of her young age at diagnosis as well as another medical condition that predisposes her to tumors. As far advanced as science is, there are still many cancers that lack sufficient treatment options.

And it's because of Gracie that I've decided to go in to cancer research. I'm tired of hearing how certain treatments- more advanced ones- are only available in certain areas of the country. I'm upset that she has to suffer through years of cancer treatments that at some point will no longer do any good. She's only five; she's spent more than half of her life battling this disease.

I'm hoping to get a lab position at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey starting this spring or summer. Hopefully something I do can help save someone's life.

20 October 2009


Since, as it turns out, I'm possibly going back to Paris in January, I posted some pictures from my last trip there in 2007. You can see them here. The last time I was in Paris was June of 2007. It will be interesting to see how different the city is in the middle of winter!

Another highlight of the trip is that I will get to see my friend who lives near Coulanges. We've been pen-pals for over 4 years, and we actually met each other on my last trip to Paris. Since it's highly unlikely that she will visit the States any time soon, it's really exciting for both of us that we can meet up in January!

06 October 2009

Awesome Peanut Butter cookies!

2 c. creamy peanut butter
1 1/4 c. white sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. flour
1/2 bag white chocolate chips

Cream together first 3 ingredients. Mix in eggs, one at a time, then add next 3 ingredients and mix until completely blended. Fold in white chocolate chips. Roll into 1-inch balls, then roll in extra granulated sugar. Flatten into circles, making sure not to crack the dough. Bake 10-13 min. on a greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees. Let cool on baking sheet 5-7 min. before moving to cooling rack.

13 August 2009

Tortellini Salad :)

1-16. oz bag of tortellini, any flavor
1 plum tomato
1 clove of garlic, cut in half
2 tsp. EVOO
1/4 tsp. balsamic vinegar
grated parmesan cheese
shredded parmesan cheese
garlic salt, pepper, italian seasoning to taste

Cook tortellini according to package directions. (If desired, add salt to water.) While cooking, cut tomato into cubes and put in a small bowl. Rub halves of garlic on inside of a medium bowl, then slice very thin and add to tomatoes. Add 1/2 tsp. EVOO and mix. Strain tortellini and rinse under cold water to chill. Dry on paper towel and add to medium bowl. Stir in tomato mixture. Add remaining 1 1/2 tsp. EVOO and balsamic vinegar, mix to coat tortellini. Add desired amount of grated parmesan cheese (about 1/4 to 1/3 c.) and 2 handfuls of shredded parmesan cheese, stir. Season with garlic salt, pepper, and/or italian seasoning. Keep in refrigerator until ready to serve.
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