Young Australians’ Cancer Initiative (YACI) – interview with Geoffrey Yang
1. When and how did you learn about and become involved with YACI?
I first learnt about the Young Australians’ Cancer initiative (YACI) in 2021 (in year 10), when one of our teachers emailed our grade about their High School Symposium and Competitions. Seeing as it was a great opportunity, I decided to attend the symposium with a bunch of friends who were also quite passionate about the subject.
2. What motivated you to get involved?
As a student who has enjoyed science and looking into cancer, I have always been motivated by these various information sessions, as this allowed me to develop a clear, conceptual understanding of one of the world’s most deadly killers. The truth is, young people are often stuck when trying to find out how to get involved with something they are genuinely passionate about; YACI also provided the perfect platform for young people to learn about the impact of a disease that will likely impact us all at some stage of our life.
3. The 2021 Program focussed on Breast Cancer. Is that a particular interest of yours or are you interested in other / all cancers?
Currently, my interest lies in the whole broad spectrum of cancer, from common ones like melanoma and breast cancer, to deadly ones like pancreatic cancer. All cancers & aspects of cancers pique my interest; from developing safe methods to prevent and treat it, to looking at cancer at the cellular level. Personally, 2 cancers that really resonate with me are breast and prostate cancer, as these are the cancers that 2 of my grandparents have been affected by.
4. You chose to write about Post-treatment patient care in your YACI Essay. What influenced you to choose this topic?
I must first acknowledge that three parts of patient care – screening, treatment, and aftercare – are like a triangle: if any side collapses, then patient care would not be the structured system we see today. For instance, if screening was not sufficient, there would be an influx of patients, making it harder for treatment and after care (as the healthcare system is placed under pressure). On this note, as a person from the younger generation, I like to think about the future. I have very strong faith in Australia’s screening programs; they are ubiquitous – and effective. As for cancer treatment, as technology gradually improves, so will our understanding of cancer. Although these genetic mutations may pose a difficulty, we cannot deny that we are making progress day by day. Today, cancer treatment can be a lengthy process, and the survival rate in some cancers is as high as 90%, meaning palliative care is of paramount importance. I argued that a “progressive” palliative care program (including during/after cancer treatment)– centered around the 5 health dimensions: physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual – should be followed. After all, human life after cancer treatment is just as important as it was before.
5. As the winner of the Essay Competition, you did three day’s Work Experience at RPAH Anatomical Pathology. Tell us a little about what that involved.
The department of tissue pathology at RPAH focuses on the diagnosis of cancer: when samples come in, they go through a rather rigorous process – no, doctors can’t give a diagnosis on the spot. I spent 3 days inside RPAH Anatomical pathology lab, one of the 60 (approx) pathology labs in NSW. Here, I not only got to observe every single step of what happens to a sample when it comes, but also got to talk to various staff members and professors about their journeys and stories in the industry. Given the serious nature of work, I was surprised that everyone was extremely cordial, and willing to answer the various questions I posed while watching them perform their daily routines. The 3 day experience was split into 5 sections in total, from the dissection lab on the first day, to the IHC (immunohistochemistry) and FISH (fluorescent in-situ hybridisation) lab on the second day, and the cytology and histology/special stains – all areas were part of the examination process.
6. What was the highlight for you of the three day’s Work Experience at RPAH Anatomical Pathology?
It’s not every day that you get to visit a fully functioning anatomical lab and see all the ins and outs of the job, so every part of the lab amazed me to a significant degree. When I asked many people what the best part of the job was, I was expecting answers from ‘learning new things every day’ and ‘constantly exploring new possibilities’. However, most if not all the people I spent time with acknowledge that one of the best parts of working there was the people, and it’s not hard to see why. While performing everyday routines, everyone took the time to explain the ‘whys and hows’ of their duties – from the basic things like the function of the lab and tools to the more in-depth details like what to look for and the purpose of the procedures. As Markus Zusak says, “It’s not the place, I think. It’s the people”. Although every section of the lab was a highlight for me, the people really just tied it all together, and made the experience appeal to me even more.
7. Do you have any ideas about what career path you would like to follow when you leave school?
Currently, I am interested in the Medical/Medical Science career path — both fields inside life sciences that involve making a diagnosis and treatment of diseases. However, I’m open to change, and believe that it is always a great idea to keep an open mind & just take as many opportunities that come my way.
8. Has the YACI experience influenced your decision? If so, in what way?
This work experience has definitely influenced my decision by broadening my scope. I believe that all experiences can provide insight to my future, and this one is no exception. Previously, I was relatively unaware of all the ‘behind the scenes’ tissue pathology, and all the intricate steps that it involved. I believe that my career path is strongly influenced by my opportunities; now that I know more about this field, there will be more decisions for me to choose from in the future.
9. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’d first like to thank YACI for facilitating this wonderful experience, and RPAH Lab Manager Kris Avery. I’d like to thank Will and Fiona for teaching me in the dissection Lab, Bain, Di, Winnie and Winny for guiding me around IHC, Minh and Gerry for showing me the FISH lab, Matthew and George for introducing me to cytology, Kimberlee for showing me the slide preparation and special stains, A/Professor Geoff Watson for talking to me about subjects from histology to life in general, and all the other lab workers for making this experience so pleasant (hopefully I didn’t pester you all with so many questions).
Pathology is a really small field, generally because “nobody knows about it”. It’s important to acknowledge pathologists’ contributions as part of the diagnosis process.
To the reader, good luck on all your future endeavours!