When Catherine Applegate began her graduate research into the effects of diet on cancer, she had no idea that soon she would be experiencing cancer from a completely different perspective – as a patient.
When she received her breast cancer diagnosis at the beginning of the final year of her doctoral program in nutritional sciences, Applegate was determined to finish her degree on time while simultaneously managing chemotherapy treatments and surgery.
“This goal would not have been met were I not surrounded by the resources I needed and an amazingly collaborative network,” Applegate said. “The support I received from my advisor, collaborators, colleagues and department was absolutely amazing and heart-warming.”
Her professors adjusted her class and lab schedules to accommodate her treatments. Seeing an opportunity to confront the disease through her research, she continued her work in the lab of John Erdman, a professor emeritus of nutrition and food science. Her research focused on the impact of diet and obesity on prostate cancer progression. Although it was a different type of cancer from her own, she found renewed purpose and urgency to the work.
“The whole experience has been continuously teaching me to view my research not only as a scientist who strives to make an impression within the scientific community, but also as a patient whose future and quality of life may be highly impacted by that research,” Applegate said.
The Cancer Center at Illinois became another helpful source of support and inspiration. Applegate joined the Cancer Research Advocacy Group, a team that brings researchers, physicians, patients and survivors together to offer input and feedback. She also became a Cancer Center Ambassador, reaching out to students, potential future cancer scholars and the public.
“The Cancer Center at Illinois holds great significance for me as it represents my affiliation to cancer research both from a scientist’s and a patient’s standpoint,” she said.
Applegate will begin a Beckman Institute postdoctoral fellowship after graduation, which will allow her to remain in the Champaign area to continue cancer treatments with her oncology team at the Mills Breast Cancer Institute while conducting research using advanced imaging technologies to determine early tumor responses to treatments.
“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to continue to be part of the campus community after graduation,” she said. “The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has an amazingly collaborative and innovative environment that has shaped me on both an academic and a personal level.”