What Inspires me in Life by Lukas C.

What Inspires me in Life by Lukas C.

My life came to a sudden halt when both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer my junior year of high school. The science I’d been persuing since eighth grade abruptly became very personal. Although both eventually received effective surgical treatment, I decided to spend my life trying to prevent others from facing the same frightening potential of losing a friend, sibling, child, or parent.

The eighth grade first introduced me to a passion for science. While examining my own cheek cells under a microscope, I made a suddenly connection: we were learning about me—my hands, my toes, my ears, all made up of these tiny spheres working to keep me alive. I was awestruck considering the millions of miniature factories straining to produce energy every time I blinked or picked up a pencil and even more captivated recognizing that the same stunning intricacy existed hidden in the plants and animals all around me. My perspective on the world quickly evolved as I began to see every organism as a unique creation of natural selection.

My parents, both PhD scientists, eagerly supported my curiosity, telling me about their research and exposing me to the intense academic and intellectual challenges that scientists face. I had an early feeling that these were the questions I would spend my life answering. For sophomore year I switched all my electives to science courses, taking advanced biology and physics. My vibrant curiosity flourished as we studied the functions of the liver, rotational motion, insect anatomy, frictional coefficients, plant reproduction and more—as if every magnetic field diagram I drew pulled me further in.

I wanted nothing more than to be a scientist, both academically and in my everyday life. I endeavored to abide by the principles of the scientific method and analyze my daily activities like experiments—using statistical analysis to determine the fastest way home, exploring the principles of physics to balance better while kicking in taekwondo, calculating the necessary increase in finger strength to rock climb a higher grade. I studied until I could think like a psychologist, work like a physicist, react like a chemist, and live like a biologist.

The following summer found me learning to love the research process while interning at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Maryland. Even as a high school student in a professional lab for the first time, I could be a part of discovering something completely novel about animal and human physiology with applications to the health of millions. Nobody cared about my age because in science it doesn’t matter who you are; it matters what you do. I appreciated the egalitarian inclusion and even coauthored my first paper. Certain I’d found my lifelong passion, I made no plans to re-search.

To me, the beautiful part of biomedical research is its logic. Every bit of data, like a puzzle piece, fits precisely into the surrounding informational context when fully understood. At first it’s hard to see, but finally after examining the color scheme, orientation, and shape it all fits together perfectly, like neurons in the brain, fibers in a muscle, or cells in my cheek.

But even more than just an intellectual curiosity, biology is appealing to me as a uniquely introspective science—it’s the “study of life,” my own included. It allows me to fully appreciate that life, both through repeated depictions of our bodies as precariously balanced machines, ready to go haywire at any minute, and through constant reminders of the immensely complicated processes natural selection has crafted to keep me breathing.

My parents’ diagnoses shocked my system. Our family reacted as one would expect—with silent concern and grave attempts at support. As a species, we have flown to other planets and theorized about the nature and beginning of our universe, but we stood there powerless in the face of one of the world’s most common diseases. I became convinced that we could do better.

Beyond being an amazingly compelling and introspective science, biology is also a fight against the world’s greatest evils. Approximately half of men and two thirds of women alive today will get cancer in their lifetime. As Siddhartha Mukherjee put it, it is truly the “Emperor of All Maladies.” I have spent the last three years working at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to prepare myself for an intense career pushing science to the next level. I work with urgency and focus, knowing that every experiment moves us a little closer to a cure. I am determined to fight disease in all its forms, a force so terrible its description far surpasses that of an injustice.

In addition, my parent’s stories further inspire me to continue this path pursuing science. My dad, a nerd in high school much like me, went to Harvard for his undergrad and continued to get his PhD in biochemistry from UC Berkeley. After working in the biotech industry for a number of years, he found his real passion in teaching, and is not a college professor. My mom grew up in rural, soviet-era Czech Republic to an extremely impoverished family. Her parents scorned her for pursuing science and focusing on school, wanting her to become a gardener. Despite being essentially disowned, she received her PhD in Organic Chemistry from the Prague Academy of Sciences and is now a leader in the field of prostate cancer research. They both demonstrate a few things as paramount to a successful life and career—staunch pursuit of one’s passion, enjoying helping others, and the importance of education.  These things all come together for me in science, which I find both interesting and a tool to help others. They inspire me, both in their stories and by their conditions, to dedicate my life to biomedical research.

While my parents both recovered, it is hard to say that I feel justice has been served. We make progress every day, and new information or publications come as small victories. But I know that the community of passionate and dedicated scientists and doctors won’t rest until this disease, in all its forms and in all its patients (not just for those in industrial society and with exceptional healthcare), lies helpless in the face of safe and widely-successful therapies. I won’t either.

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