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Strom Carries on Her Cancer Research

Conquest - Summer 2009

By Mary Jane Schier

A lingering acid taste in her mouth prompted Sara Strom, Ph.D., to see her doctor in 2000. She expected to get a prescription to relieve the problem, but an endoscopy revealed early-stage stomach cancer.

“I was very fortunate because stomach cancer usually is discovered after it has metastasized,” explains Strom, associate professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Epidemiology.

Sara Strom, Ph.D., with Paul Mansfield, M.D.,
the surgeon who removed the tumor in her

Looking back, Strom believes her healthy lifestyle and positive attitude were plus factors during chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and recovery. Having access to the best specialists and other caregivers coupled with “wonderful family support” helped her resume her research and teaching routines quite rapidly.

“By nature, I’m a positive person. I always expected to get well and return to my normal schedule … and, for me, normal was — and still is — my research, my exercise and all my family activities,” she says.

Today, she is busier than before confronting cancer. Her research focuses on molecular, clinical and epidemiological risk factors associated with the development and progression primarily of prostate cancer and leukemia.

“Because of my outcomes research, I’ve had a lot of interaction with cancer patients and survivors. I thought I knew what they considered relevant,” Strom says, “but it was only after I survived that I could understand what is really important,”

That insight led to improving the way she and her team talk with patients and compile data. They “strive to be more sensitive to the patients as individuals” and not as statistics for a research project.

Strom’s experiences prompted her to propose and now chair the Cancer in the Workplace Employee Network, which started in 2008 for faculty and employees who have survived cancer as well as coworkers, caregivers and others interested in cancer-related issues.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center