Posted October 18, 2023

Krystle Hensley
Krystle Hensley
(Photo Provided)

I wanted to be a research scientist since I was 15 years old, after reading The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus (Preston, 1994). I was fascinated by the fact that something as small as a virus particle could potentially be so devastating. In 2016, I was chasing my dream in graduate school at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine while also working as a fellow in a laboratory focused on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). My life seemed magical, and I had no idea that a storm was approaching. The life I knew was about to change forever.

In July 2016, I received a phone call that no one ever wants to receive. At the age of 27, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 estrogen receptor/progesterone receptor-positive breast cancer. Two weeks later, I was also diagnosed with a BRCA1 mutation. I had a double mastectomy; underwent an egg harvesting procedure, later donating my ovaries to the University of North Carolina Research Center; and completed four rounds of chemotherapy, all while remaining in my classes. Less than a year after I was diagnosed, I graduated with my Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine degree.

As a cancer survivor, I work with numerous organizations, producing social media content, developing patient surveys, and acting as a mentor to newly diagnosed cancer patients. One such organization, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, where I was involved in the Young Advocate Program, nominated me to serve as a consumer reviewer for the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP).

Although I would never wish my diagnosis upon anyone, it has truly changed my life and perspective as both a cancer survivor and a research scientist. Working as a consumer reviewer for the BCRP has been an absolute honor. I consider it a privilege to work on panels with other scientists, experts, and peers with a common goal in mind, making an impactful difference in the lives of breast cancer patients by ensuring adequate and efficient treatments. Every year, I look forward to the relationships that will be fostered through this program and the immeasurable insight that is gained.

Today, I am quite literally living out my teenage dream, working as an outbreak response scientist and supporting clinical trials in low-resource, international laboratories. Because of research such as that being performed by scientists through the BCRP, I have a voice and a future, a future that many of my friends and family members no longer have. With further advancements and understanding in research, the future is looking brighter, and we are living longer.

The views, opinions, and/or findings contained in this paper are those of the author(s) and should not be construed as an official Department of Defense position, policy or decision.

Last updated Wednesday, October 18, 2023