I’d like to tell you a story. It’s my cancer story.
Unfortunately, you may very well have your own cancer story: Battling and surviving this horrible disease yourself. Or caring for a loved one, friend, neighbor or colleague. Or sadly, burying your wife, mother, grandfather, son or daughter.
Mine starts in Georgia where I grew up, loving the outdoors, the satisfactory crunch of dried leaves under my shoes, the warmth of the sun on my face, the chirping of birds, the hush of a frosty early morning hike. Binoculars in one hand and a field guide in the other, I studied birds, trees, flowers and bugs. It was inevitable, I thought, that I would become a field biologist or forestry researcher, nurturing my love of both nature and science.
At 20 years of age, I was in college in Texas and well on my way toward this goal when I met and fell in love with Jackie. We married and started our life together, following our plan for me to finish school, start my career and raise our family. After graduating with a degree in biology, I matriculated in graduate school and began the pursuit of a graduate degree in field biology.
And then my destiny changed almost overnight. Within a six-month span of time, my 53-year-old father, Wallace Jay Ratliff, and my father-in-law, William “Jack” Harmonson, both lost their lives to cancer. I was devastated. Our dads had left us too soon. They would never again walk in the woods on a sunny fall day or see the stars twinkling on a clear summer night. They would never again kiss their wives or tell their children that they loved them.
As a son and son-in-law, I grieved these losses deeply. And as a biology student, I wondered how tiny rogue cells inside human beings could cause so much pain and misery.
I had to do something. I had to fight it.
So I changed my career direction, switching my studies from field biology to human biology. Cancer research became my life’s work. Moving inside the laboratory, where I could view these tiny cells with powerful, sometimes colossal machines, I began seeking ways to lessen the pain, reduce the hurt, diagnose the disease sooner. Prolong life.
Since then, I have been privileged to be involved in several breakthroughs in cancer treatment and prevention. At Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, I was on the team that developed the prostate specific antigen test ― the PSA, which, combined with a digital rectal exam, is the most widely used test for detecting prostate cancer. I also was part of research that led to a new treatment for bladder cancer.
In 2007, I was named the Robert Wallace Miller Director of the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research, where, for the last eight years, I have led one of only 68 cancer centers in the country designated by the National Cancer Institute. In this remarkable place, nearly 100 elite scientists from disciplines as varied as biology and mechanical engineering collaborate with each other and with experts around the world on cancer discovery.
Like me, many of my fellow researchers have cancer stories. And many of you alumni do, too. It is my life’s dream that more of these stories have happier endings in the future.
I am deeply grateful to those of you who have contributed in the past to the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research or any cancer research center or clinical center. Your donations make a difference. And if you are so inclined to support the brilliant minds who work so hard to ensure that we all have more sunny days and starry nights in our future, please consider a gift to our cancer center today.
Each day we find new discoveries that are promising. Together, we will defeat this disease.
Timothy L. Ratliff, PhD
Robert Wallace Miller Director
Purdue University Center for Cancer Research