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Mom’s Breast Cancer Diagnosis Sparks Researcher’s Passion

Oct 10, 2022 8:00 AM

Katherine (K-T) Varley, PhD, was 15 when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. When doctors couldn’t answer all of her family’s questions, Varley wondered how something so important could be unknown. Now, she is a world-class expert expanding such knowledge. “To all the parents and children sitting in oncologist offices today, please know we are here searching for answers to your questions,” Varley writes. She knows firsthand about cancer’s toll, and her vision is bold and uncompromising. We’re incredibly grateful for her work to advance cancer screening and treatment—and for people like you who support her.

With gratitude,

Susan Sheehan
President and COO
Huntsman Cancer Foundation

KT Varley and her mother

How Losing My Mother to Cancer Led to a Career in Research

Author: Katherine (K-T) Varley, PhD

The following is an excerpt. Read the full story here.

When I was 15 years old, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was a teacher who approached everything in life as an opportunity to learn. She brought me to her medical appointments and we’d ask: Why did she develop breast cancer? Why do treatments make her so sick? Will she be okay?

Her doctors were kind and answered many of our questions, but told us the answers to some of our questions were unknown. That was a huge surprise to me. How could something so important be unknown?

When my mother’s breast cancer recurred a couple of years later, we were shocked. Our questions became more educated and intense, but we received fewer answers. How did cells from her early-stage tumor dodge surgery, survive chemotherapy, and metastasize [spread] so quickly? Why didn’t the chemo work for her when it had worked for so many others? While she rode the rollercoaster of treatment, remission, and recurrence, I went to college to learn how to answer these questions.

Susan Sheehan

President and COO, Huntsman Cancer Foundation