Worry About Yourself. No, But Really.

For Day 6 of #BlackinCancerWeek we are highlighting what we as an organizing committee are learning and unlearning about #AvoidingSelfDestruction.

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Cancer is a disease that ravages families and communities, and beyond that, it is at least emotionally taxing to work in a field that is so deeply personal to so many. So, we wanted to be intentional about sharing a bit about our self-care practices and hope you also feel comfortable sharing yours.

  • Kilan Ashad-Bishop, PhD : In my 6.5 years of graduate school a lot of my health issues came to a head. For a long time I had prioritized school and professional advancement over taking care of myself, and when I couldn’t do that any longer, I underwent a parallel and more personal training process. I had to learn and unlearn so many habits including my best practices for task management, breathing and meditation to manage my anxiety flare ups, and vigilance about maintaining a positive and productive mood. The changes also spanned my lifestyle, many of my green household and culinary habits started during that time because they were good for me and my grad school budget. Now, I make sure to highlight the importance of radical self-care in everything I do, to inspire others to not wait as long as I did to make it a priority (P.S.My favorite green home hack is my homemade glass cleaner using rubbing alcohol, vinegar and cornstarch)
  • Janae Sweeney: I never knew what Imposter Syndrome was until I experienced my first bout of academic burnout. Although I was attending an HBCU, I quickly realized that there weren’t many faculty members with whom I could identify with. Unconsciously, I threw myself into my research, and worked tirelessly to excel my coursework and research in order to prove myself and my worthiness of acceptance into the program. It wasn’t until my disastrous first attempt at my Qualifying Examination that I realized I was suffering from Imposter Syndrome; and it was gravely affecting me both inside and out. I was forced to accept that being a Black student conducting cancer research didn’t define me; it was simply an addition to the well-rounded person I was becoming. I slowly began to re-engage in the fun activities I had long-deserted, and since then I have truly flourished! My mind and body have thanked me for returning to my easy-going..concert loving..Netflix binge-watching..bookworm-self and I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything in the world. 
  • Danielle Twum, PhD: “Was it worth it, getting your PhD, seeing how much you sacrificed along the way?” This was a question my therapist asked me recently and it stopped me. We have been slowly working through my graduate school experience -talking about moments where I felt my best work was not being appreciated but that of others was being lauded, being used as a token Black student for numerous ads for the institution I was at but being held to a very visible higher standard than other students, knowing that it did not matter what I did, the goal post would always move. This was my graduate school experience and it truly did a number on me. I should have reached out for help earlier before the injuries begun to scar. I really should have. I am now in a position to choose my therapist to help me love my scars and that is a privilege. We need to make access to mental health care easy and affordable at every stage in one’s education, especially when one goes into higher ed.  I wish I did not have my scars but they are part of my story now. Every child I inspire because of the three letters after my name soothes my scars.  Every door that opens because of the three letters after my name, I walk through proudly with my scars. I’m healing, and it was definitely worth it. 
  • Chrystelle Vilfranc: From a very young age, my mental health has been a challenge. While in high school, I knew that I needed to find some form(s) of support, which led me to seek out counseling, therapy, and even attend occasional group therapy sessions offered at my high school. These services equipped me with enough tools to help me manage my depression and anxiety. I carried these tools with me into college and incorporated a few different methods, such as yoga and meditation. I made an effort to prioritize time for devoting to my mental and physical well-being at least twice a week. During the first couple of years of graduate school however, the demands of school and research made it difficult for me to prioritize my mental and physical health challenges. Once I began taking my physical health more seriously, I realized that my physical pain was influenced by my levels of  anxiety and stress. As I did once before, I found the courage to go to therapy. Now, I attend weekly therapy sessions. Therapy has been essential for finishing my PhD journey and maintaining my mental well-being. As I often say, the PhD journey is tough enough without the right support, and therapy has been a great source of additional support. 

There are many different ways to take time, to make space, and to take care. If there is anything that you take from this day of this week, we hope that it is to ensure that whether you are battling cancer personally or professionally, that you don’t let the stress of achieving, coping or grieving go unaddressed. Leave a comment or share with us on Twitter how you are actively #AvoidingSelfDestruction.

Danielle Twum

Molecular Science Liaison, Caris Life Sciences

Hailing from Ghana, West Africa, Dr. Danielle Twum received her B.A. in Biology from Vassar College where she studied the effects of climate change on coral bleaching. Danielle received her PhD in Cancer Immunology from the University at Buffalo where she studied the immunology of breast cancer metastasis. She currently works as a Molecular Science Liaison at Caris Life Sciences. Dr. Twum is an AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador, an initiative aimed at increasing visibility of women in STEM as role models for young girls.

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