As a kid, when other girls were playing with dolls, I was running science experiments. My parents never understood why I wasn’t more traditional, but I kept on studying science. In college, I fell in love with immunology—it’s still amazing to me that there’s a system that is responsive to everything else in your body. In the middle of an immunology class, my favorite aunt was diagnosed with cancer, and later died; I decided then that I wanted to do cancer research to honor her memory and make a difference, so I pursued a PhD in cancer immunology.
My other major passion was cycling, my favorite way to decompress from a long week at work. Then at age 29, 11 months into my post-doctorate year, I was hit by a car while riding my bike. My leg was shattered from the knee down, and I had injuries to my face, arms, and hands. I was in a wheelchair for 18 months. All of a sudden, living alone, I couldn’t drive, bathe, stand to brush my teeth or make my food. The doctors told me I was lucky to be alive and had a five percent chance of walking again.
Well, that wasn’t good enough for me. I was young, I hadn’t done anything with my life yet, and though I was in incredible pain and had all sorts of health problems, I had to get up. I pestered the doctors constantly, tried all manner of physical therapy, and ended up working with a ballerina who’d been in a car accident and rehabilitated herself when no one else believed she could. Everything was indescribably painful. Fortunately, I met my partner, who is now my wife, who has always had an amazing capacity to say, “we can handle this.”
After the accident, when I realized I would always have health problems, I wasn’t sure what I could do in science and be in a wheelchair. So I decided to go to law school. Fortunately, I recovered enough to walk, but I was off on a new trajectory, using my background in cancer immunology and law to do intellectual property for pharmaceutical companies. When I got a call from a recruiter at Genentech, I was excited. My inner scientist always wanted to work here, and I knew that leadership valued a healthy work life balance, which can be hard to come by as a lawyer.
I don’t talk about the accident very much, and was nervous to bring it up at work. At first, I was afraid that if people knew I live with chronic pain they’d think it would compromise my ability to do my job. But I didn’t want to hide what I was going through, so I told my team about it, and no one thought any less of me; in fact, being open deepened my relationships with my co-workers. The fact that I live with and work through chronic pain has affected how I approach problems at work. Sometimes my team thinks that I’m asking for the impossible. But my accident and experience have taught me that nothing is impossible. By having the right mindset, patience and perseverance, any problem can be solved.
Twelve years after the accident, I got back on a bicycle. I was scared and decided I had to do it for a bigger purpose to motivate myself, so I joined a Team in Training to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It was terrifying, but my training team was there for me, and biked around me on all sides to help me feel protected. Since then, I’ve completed eight century bike rides and loved every minute of it. My resilience and passion for science infuse my daily work in Legal a solution and results orientated approach to any problem so that we collectively can continue to do what seems impossible in helping our patients.