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T-Cells! (Or how to pull up your big girl panties)

What’s this? A music teacher writing about T-cells? That’s only the half of it y’all…

Last summer at the National Breast Cancer Coalition‘s Project LEAD Institute, my study group and I were charged with giving a talk about immunology to our fellow advocates-in-training.


Prior to my acceptance at LEAD my understanding of the immune system topped out at about the level of “white blood cells help us fight infections”. An important bit of knowledge when a chemotherapy infusion is on your Wednesday to-do list.

Low WBC (white blood cell) count no chemo for you…..


Because strong chemotherapy can lower the number of infection-fighting white blood cells in your body, which may weaken your immune system and increase your risk for certain types of infection. And if you’re white blood cell count is already low and then you layer chemo on top, well, that could be bad.

OK, so how are T-cells part of this?

In some ways I wish I could answer that by listing all of our instructors, but for now, I’ll choose two who also happened to be our study group advisors, Dr. Stephanie Goff and Kirsten Moysich, PhD. If not for their superior ability to teach a roomful of dedicated lay people the science of breast cancer and metastasis, and their tireless guidance during study group time, we would never have gotten to the essence of our immunology presentation…


But actually this article isn’t about T-cells.

It’s about swallowing the fear and taking on an adventure that scared the pants off me.

Let’s go back in time to about thirty-six hours before the Project LEAD application deadline. I filled out the application, answered all the questions, gathered my recommendations, edited my answers to perfection, promptly chickened out and called everybody telling them I wasn’t actually applying.

I didn’t belong in that place, I hadn’t taken science since high school (remember, I’m a musician–

ok, maybe I took basic bio in college)

I can’t do this!!!!

I don’t deserve a seat at this table.

At least, that’s what my fear kept yelling at me.

Yeah, no fun.

And then I pulled up my big girl panties, “Why is this any different than every other thing I’ve ever done as a music teacher?”

Conduct a chorus of a hundred in front of an audience of a thousand–check.

Learn 30 new songs in a month and teach them to my students–check.

Figure out how to make music theory fun…ok, still working on that one–check (!)

That stuff didn’t scare me, at least not to the point of backing out….

I got this.

Fast forward 5 months later and I’m sitting in a room filled with people with a singular goal: become educated breast cancer research advocates.

And guess what? Most of them weren’t scientists either!

The week of Project LEAD wasn’t about us, it was about filling the gaps in our science foundations so we, as patient advocates can have a legitimate seat at the decision making table.

And thanks to Project LEAD I’ve been attending all sorts of science based cancer conferences and holding my own. Because I’m better at science than I remember. And when I get lost in the jargon I spend time researching the things I don’t know.

Which is precisely what good teachers do. They never stop learning.

So thanks to my teacher training, I’m learning how to be a strong advocate.

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