OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s Assistant Director of Research Collaborations for the Precision Oncology Program, Rochelle Williams-Belizaire, is MORE THAN PINK®; she is working alongside Komen Scholar, Dr. Gordon Mills, on the SMMARTTM Program (Serial Measurements of Molecular and Architectural Responses to Therapy) to change paradigms and create a world without breast cancer.
The mission of the SMMARTTM program is to find durable responses that allow a high quality of life for those with advanced disease like Triple Negative Breast Cancer. While Dr. Mills aggressively works with others to identify techniques and learn more about evolving cancer behaviors, Rochelle works to build academic to academic internal and external collaborations.
“Dr. Mills and I are working together to change the world,” Rochelle stated firmly. “The idea here is to take our knowledge and share it with others to effectively [do so].”
It was in college when Rochelle began to learn about health disparities among people with a similar background to her own; this, along with the values her family instilled in her, influenced her studies in politics and community health/health policy. Rochelle has learned much and is determined to share all she can with underserved communities.
“For me, I naturally equated caring for others as someone in the medical field,” she said. “[College] was a rewarding time and allowed me to determine I wanted to be more involved in the cutting-edge science and research that can bring hope to cancer patients in the form of treatment options. It was my first exposure to clinical trials and clinical research. It is my love for helping others, the work ethic my parents instilled in me, my drive for learning all there is to know about clinical trial operations, but most importantly sharing what I have learned with under-served communities that affords me the opportunity to be the Assistant Director, Research Collaborations for the Precision Oncology program at the Knight Cancer Institute.”
Rochelle’s personal connection to breast cancer stems from her husband’s mother, who lives in Haiti. With her being so far away, it can be difficult to know whether she is receiving proper care, especially because her mother-in-law never complains. So they send money to cover medical bills and medication; however, they recently learned that those finances were covering something else…her care as an oncology patient. Her mother-in-law had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“She said she did not want to hurt or worry us,” Rochelle reflected. “Even during her diagnosis she is thinking of others – caring for others. She is not the only person living with breast cancer that has this amazing spirit. I have a high school friend who is a breast cancer survivor, working mom, loving wife, and care provider for three adorable boys. She runs races, conquers her job, and lives life to the fullest. How can I not be invested? How can I not be persistent? I am fortunate to not have breast cancer – I need to get to work and support these amazing women in any way that I can.”
Rochelle genuinely believes that it is caring for others deeply – like her mother-in-law cares for her children, and Rochelle and her husband cares for her – that leads to better research. When asked about how researchers find success in their work, Rochelle said it starts with care – that you must care about your research if you are to be successful; you must care about the cancer patient if you are to be successful. The SMMARTTM program serves to provide better care so that more affective research can be done.
Rochelle is passionate about her work and advises others to become as knowledgeable as possible about yourself and your family history. Knowledge like this helps your physician find the best treatment plan for you.
“I have a certain interest in breast cancer as a woman, a woman who knows cancer does not discriminate,” Rochelle stated; “a woman who has friends who thankfully are all survivors of breast cancer; a woman who knows there are too many grandmothers, mothers, sisters, brothers and many others who are not as fortunate; a woman who understands more must be done!”