You’re at a birthday party; how would you describe your research and your findings?
“I usually tell people that I do research with cancer patients. If they’re still interested, I explain that I look for factors that can improve the treatment and results. It often has an impact on my family and friends. They know that their cousin is a doctor, but they often don’t realise that I work with cancer patients. But I prefer not to talk about cancer treatments at parties. I leave out complicated details about muscle tissue anyway, but it’s still my work and I’d rather not talk about it in my free time.”
How will your thesis make the world a better place?
“One of the key questions of my research was: can a patient handle the treatment physically and mentally? With these insights, we can help patients bear the treatments better. The treatment often has a significant impact on their fitness. For example, people often get tired. As doctors, we can also use the research results to gain more understanding for our patients. People said that they wanted to be seen more as people and not just as patients.”
What was your lowest point in recent years?
“During my research, a close friend died from the consequences of the type of breast cancer from my second chapter. I was writing it at the time. My friend was slightly older and actually a mother figure to me; we were very close. I was numb just before and after she died. I stopped work for a while, but it’s only later that you fall into a sort of black hole.”
“A year after her death, I found myself unable to concentrate for a while; my research wasn’t going well. But I had to continue and fortunately I had some real motivation: the money for this research was only available for a certain amount of time. Eventually I completed the research within four years.”
What was the first thing you did when the thesis was finished?
“I mean, is something like that ever finished? It’s such a long process. At first, I sometimes had the sense of: this battle has been won. It will be finished. It’s just a matter of time. I can still remember the moment when my last article was accepted. I was already working in the clinic and had to be there early to extract some bone marrow. When I got to the hospital, I first opened my emails and that’s when I saw it had been accepted. I immediately started to cry. The work was finished and a month later it was at the printer’s. Then I planned a meal with friends, because that had become a tradition to keep up our morale. After someone had published an article, we went out for a meal.”
“The cover was designed by Chester Gibs, a friend. I told him about the research, about how patients experience the treatments. There’s a woman on the cover. She has two breasts, but one is coloured red. You can see a heart in it, but also a sick breast. She has half a face, because many people feel less of a woman or even less human after a mastectomy.
“I’m very pleased with the cover. The research is so scientific, contains so much data. I wanted something subjective on the cover, because the research is about more than just science.”