09 May, 2022
Science | STEM | Research

Meet a Tall Poppy!

The Tall Poppy Campaign was created in 1998 by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) to recognise and celebrate Australian intellectual and scientific excellence and to encourage younger Australians to follow in the footsteps of our outstanding achievers. It has made significant achievements towards building a more publicly engaged scientific leadership in Australia.

The Tall Poppy Campaign recognises the achievements of Australian scientists through the prestigious annual Young Tall Poppy Science Awards. The Campaign’s Tall Poppies engages the winners of Young Tall Poppy Science Awards (‘Tall Poppies’) in activities to promote interest in science among school students and teachers, as well as an understanding and appreciation of science in the broader community.

"My long-term goal is to eradicate the physical, psychosocial and economic burden of cancer, to ensure the growing number of people affected by cancer don’t just survive, but they survive well."

There is an ever growing number of people surviving cancer, and as such, we are starting to understand the long-term consequences of this disease and its harsh treatment. These consequences can be physical (e.g. pain, nerve injury), psychosocial (e.g. “chemobrain”, depression, fear of recurrence) and financial (e.g. under-/un-employment, cost of symptom management); each of which has a debilitating impact of peoples’ quality of life.

I have always had a natural interest in the world around me, and understanding how and why things are the way they are; so in that respect, scientific curiosity has always been a strong part of my personality. This broad interest became more refined throughout my undergraduate studies, where I immersed myself in a variety of science subjects that ranged from very fundamental to more translational/clinically-aligned. When I was introduced to the area of supportive cancer care, I knew I had found my place as it was an opportunity to apply my scientific skills to a relatively new, and frankly, under-appreciated problem. After completing my PhD, I committed myself to not only conducting new and exciting research in this area, but also advocating for improvements in supportive care infrastructure to ensure people living with or beyond cancer and their care providers were aware of the best available evidence on how to avoid certain side effects of treatment, and provide them with the tools they need to lead rich and fulfilling lives despite a cancer diagnosis.

Today, the survival rate for all cancers is the highest it has ever been (~70%) reflecting the enormous advances in the way in which we treat cancer. However, with these new achievements comes new challenges, with more than 1 in 3 people living with or beyond cancer developing a chronic health condition that is the direct result of their treatment. Unfortunately, many of these complications are difficult to treat once they have presented, placing cancer survivors at risk of significant psychosocial and financial distress. My program of research aims to understand how these side effects occur in the first place and identify personalised strategies to prevent their development.