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Dr. Juliet Daniel — inspiration personified

The Hamilton Spectator with Juliet Daniel 6 September 2018

Several years ago there were these people, scattered the world over, from here to the Himalayas probably, and every Thursday they’d stop what they were doing and say a prayer for Dr. Juliet Daniel.

“Even the ones who don’t believe in God,” Juliet says now, with a gentle laughter, as she recalls the origins of her participation in the BRIGHT (Breast Cancer Research in Greater Hamilton Today) Run.

Juliet, a biology professor at McMaster University, is running it again on Saturday for the eighth or ninth time — “I’ve done it so often I can’t remember,” she adds with another laugh.

Those people all over the world, they had something else in common. As they prayed for her, their stomachs grumbled. Because they were hungry. Aside from praying for Juliet, they fasted for her. Every Thursday, for a year, in 2009-10; that was the ritual. No breakfast, no lunch and prayers for Juliet.

That ritual began shortly after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.

She has compared that experience — a cancer cell researcher diagnosed with breast cancer — to being “hit with a dump truck.”

But Juliet, who found the lumps herself, got back up. Her family and friends and colleagues — she travels a lot in her work and so they are literally spread all over the planet — they were in shock too. “We were all in shock,” Juliet remembers. But they also got back up and they got … organized.

“They were very supportive. I surrounded myself with positive people and we started a once a week pray and fast ritual (every Thursday) for the first year of my treatment and surgeries. That was incredibly encouraging for me,” says Juliet who was born in Barbados.

Nobody knew what was going to happen, of course, but over the next few years she underwent a mastectomy, tamoxifen treatment (also Pamidronate and Xgeva) and reconstruction surgery. She was also juicing fresh fruits and vegetables for two years.

She’s healthy today, still juicing; the better she got the more incentive she had to continue running the BRIGHT Run, which she initially entered during her first year of treatment.

She runs with a team called Pirates of the Cure-abbean.

And, one day, who knows, maybe this Pirate of the Cure-abbean will make cancer feel like it got hit, not by a dump truck, but even worse for it, by a Dr. Juliet Daniel.

After all, she has already won an international reputation with her work as a scientist for, among other things, discovering and naming a protein, Kaiso, that regulates the expression of genes that control cell proliferation and can, in malfunction, possibly result in tumour progression.

If her brilliance and her fight against cancer weren’t inspiration enough, there is also her volunteerism and her long list of awards (Ontario Premier’s Excellence in Research Award; the Barbados Honor Gold Crown of Merit; National Ball Award; and a John C. Holland Award, to name a few) and there is her mentorship of graduate and undergraduate students in the African Caribbean Association at McMaster and youth in the Afro Caribbean Canadian community of Hamilton.

She is inspiration personified and perhaps nowhere so vividly as during the BRIGHT Run, through which she helps raise funds for cancer research. She herself has received grants from BRIGHT Run funding.

The run is so important because the money is so needed, she says, adding that government research funding cuts are wreaking a terrible toll. One of her own projects is about to see its grant ended.

Her lab is studying the “triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) subtype that is most prevalent in women of African ancestry and who exhibit high mortality rates from TNBC compared to women of other ethnicities,” she said.

“We are trying to identify genetic risk factors that may be causing the high prevalence and high mortality in women of African ancestry and ultimately we hope to develop a test to identify women most at risk and develop a drug that will specifically treat TNBC.”