I’m a researcher still looking for answers

This entry was written by Jackie Roth, PhD student at Thomas Jefferson University. Every other Friday, throughout the entire year of 2011, Jackie will share a blog entry about her breast cancer experience. This year-long blog series is in honor of LBBC’s 20th anniversary.

To read Jackie’s previous entries, enter “ Jackie Roth” in the search box on this site.

“Permission granted!”  As a graduate student, I’ve worked hard for over six years to hear those words!  This week I had a meeting with my thesis committee and they decided that I have done enough work to graduate.  So the next step is to write my thesis and defend it some time in early summer.  I planned this meeting to be right before my surgery.  I have chosen to have a double mastectomy scheduled for the end of February and I will be recovering at home for about one month,  a perfect time to start writing my thesis.  I can now breathe a long awaited sigh of relief, at least for a few weeks before I actually start writing! 

Although my thesis will probably be well over 200 pages, that is not the difficult part for me.  The difficult part is that it’s going to be about breast cancer and how we are working to discover new genes that are involved in breast cancer initiation, growth, and metastasis.  I’ve been trying to avoid reading the papers with statistics in them, but they can’t be avoided anymore.  They are reality and they are my reality. 

Already working in the breast cancer field and then being diagnosed with breast cancer has had its ups and downs.  On one hand I do feel privileged that I have a scientific background and enough knowledge to research my treatment options.  I know how the chemotherapy drugs work, how to sequence the BRCA gene to look for mutations, and how to stain a tumor biopsy for biomarkers.  This has really helped me understand everything that is happening. 

On the other hand I have enough knowledge to know about this disease and what it can do.  I see mice in our lab get mammary tumors and I wonder “is this what cancer looks like inside of me?”  As a researcher, I want answers.  I know that I do not have a BRCA mutation, but do I have another mutation?  My mother passed away from colon cancer at a young age, and I wonder if she had a mutation that she passed on to me?  To my sister?  If I have children, will they have these mutations as well?  These are questions that might not get answered and I am really struggling with that. I just really want to know why…if it was not a mutation, then was it something that I did to my own body?   

There was a point during my treatment when I had to transport slides of my tumor and my lymph node biopsy to a different hospital for a second opinion.  Although I have seen hundreds of tumors on slides, these were a set that I was not about to look at.  If I actually saw it, then I would know what is going on inside of me.  I would be able to picture it night and day, and that image would haunt me.  Once the cancer is out of me, then I might take a peak.  We’ll see, I have some time to make that decision!   

All in all, getting my PhD in Genetics with a focus on breast cancer research and having breast cancer have both been long journeys so far but there are ends in sight.  My surgery is coming up in about 1 month and I will finally have this thing out of me, whatever it looks like.  And, well, I’ve been in school since I was 5 and I will graduate at 29 – so basically a quarter century! 

Now I face the daunting task of finding my first real job!


20th anniversary, living beyond breast cancer, Upenn, genetics, breast cancer sugery

Jackie has a personal connection to her profession in breast cancer research – she was diagnosed with breast cancer.


Be sure to read Jackie’s previous entries by entering “Jackie Roth” in the search box on this site.

Jackie was able to balance chemotherapy treatment sessions while being a full-time PhD student. Now she is happy to say that she is done with chemotherapy and on her way to being Dr.  Jackie Roth! How did you balance your long-term goals while recovering from breast cancer treatment? Comment here or on our Facebook page.


9 thoughts on “I’m a researcher still looking for answers

  1. Jackie, we will all be following your progress. And we would be honored if you will contact us if there is ever anything we can do for you.

  2. Jackie,
    You are truly your mother’s daughter – a really wonderful, strong, and great woman. Get well soon. We are praying for you.

  3. Dear Jackie – your bravery continues to inspire me and all the students I share your story with. There are many prayers being sent your way – I hope you can discover what it going on and how to make it go away. Dr J

  4. I really like your blog post Jackie. Keep fighting.

    Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.
    -Nido Qubein

  5. you look amazing steve & i wish you the best of luck in the next weeks ahead you are in our prayers always God bless & hope to see you soon

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