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  • Writer's pictureAlyse Gray

New beginnings

Starting in November, I will be moving away from doing autopsies to start a new chapter in my career as a pathologists’ assistant-breast cancer research. This is something I am passionate about because of a family illness. Following my father’s death, my mother developed breast cancer. After enduring chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, she went into remission, only to be diagnosed with leukemia 8 years later. Leukemia is a known side effect of the chemotherapy used to treat the most common type of breast cancer. Therapy for her type of leukemia required a bone marrow transplant and a 6 month hospital stay, weakening her to the point of being unable to get out of bed. She became like my child. There were many days I didn’t know if she would live to see another. Some nights I would lay awake crying, and have to call the unit to make sure she was ok. Somehow, by the grace of God, she made it through. Unfortunately this is not the end of it. Her disease will eventually recur.

I believe through research we can develop better treatments for cancer that don’t have the side effect of causing a disease worse than what it intended to cure, and will do everything in my power to make this happen. While autopsies are important, helping to find a cure for breast cancer weighs heavily on my heart.

As sort of a final autopsy hurrah, I seek to go to Puerto Rico to help with the backlog of autopsies from last year's hurricanes. The Department of Health and Human Services put out a request for pathology assistants, forensic pathologists, and forensic dental technicians. I have answered the call and have been approved to go. I am just waiting to hear if my employer will permit me to leave earlier than my contract allows. (If anyone reading this is interested, please let me know and I'll put you in touch with the right people).

There are very few forensic pathologists on the island so the backlog of cases is tremendous. It troubles me that there are so many bodies being stored in refrigerated trucks. Families just want to be able to know what happened to their loved ones and to bury them.

I spoke with my boss about it. This mission is something I can only do if I find someone to replace me at work, in order to get out of the 90 day's leave notice required in my contract. I will be unable to take that much vacation time in my new job and have no days of leave left at my old job. It's probably the only time in my life I'll be able to go on a mission like this. Fingers crossed I can find someone.

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