Cancer symposium invites students to join the fight

It wasn’t just about education for some of the 131 high school students gathered at the Let’s Talk Cancer Symposium at the University of Windsor on Thursday.

It was personal.

Mia Simons saw the agony a friend went through watching a relative succumb to cancer in 2016 and hasn’t forgotten the helpless feeling of it all.

With aspirations to work in the medical field, Simons said the symposium was empowering in laying out the many career pathways available in the battle against cancer.

“I want go into nursing, building up to being an oncologist,” said Simons, a Grade 11 student at Villanova.

“I love biology and learning about cells and understanding cancer. Cancer has touched many people in my life.

“There’s a personal connection. I want to help others.”

The symposium’s speakers told career-minded students there were plenty of ways to take the fight to this insidious disease.

“We need people with different talents,” said Dr. Sindu Kanjeekal, a clinical oncologist at Windsor Regional Hospital’s Cancer Centre.

“What we wanted to do was show the variety of opportunities to students who might not see themselves treating cancer patients or in research.

“You can have a student interested in the basic sciences sitting next to one interested in the social sciences, but we need them both.”

Dora Cavallo-Medved, a professor in the university’s biology department, took the students through a timeline illustrating how studying in the field has evolved.

Modern research teams need more than just chemists, physicists and those with medical expertise. They also need researchers from the fields of computer science, economics and environmental studies.

“Cancer research used to be a biologist peering into microscope in a lab,” Cavallo-Medved said. “That’s not the case anymore. It’s much bigger than that.”

For Dima Toum, a Grade 11 student at Massey, seeing that two of the three keynote speakers were women was a positive reinforcement of her career opportunities.

“It’s encouraging to see there were women talking today,” said Toum, who hopes to follow her mother into nursing. “Seeing people from other cultures speaking helps a lot.”

Toum admitted her interest in attending the symposium was also fuelled by the loss of an uncle to cancer.

In addition to the 15-minute lectures, students also got to rotate through a variety of different labs for hands-on experience.

“I like the hands-on stuff,” Toum said. “I think I learn better when I’m getting to use stuff rather than just listening and writing.”

From the university’s standpoint, this first students’ symposium on cancer has helped show the growing integration of the school’s academic research and its application in the community.

“What initiated this is the creation of the Windsor Cancer Research Group three or four years ago,” said Steven Rehse, a medical physicist at the university.

“This activity grew out of that interaction. We can do outreach to students now because we’ve done that at the professional level between researchers and doctors.

“Students knew about the educational component at the university but today they learned the field is so large they can be involved in so many different ways.”

By midday, only half the program had been completed, but it was obvious the message being delivered to students had been received.

Initially, there had been only a few positive responses when students were asked whether they could see themselves making a career in cancer research. When the question was later repeated, dozens of hands shot up.

Source: The Windsor Star