My cousin Alex meant a lot to me and many others. A couple weeks ago, she passed away due to cancer at the age of 23.

One by one, the same fate will consume all of us. Our parents, siblings, friends, and relatives will all die. It's inevitable. The true tragedies are when deaths occur out of order: a daughter before her parents, a friend who you never even considered life without. As I see it, there are a few ways one can deal with these tragedies: denying, accepting, or fighting.


Denying

Life is short. You can easily live your whole life without fully acknowledging the tragedies that occur. Treat everyone around you as if they are permanent fixtures, ignoring their transience.

Accepting

Accept that death is a fundamental part of life, and that you are powerless to alter the outcome. You can convince yourself everything happens for a reason, and watching everyone you love disappear is an unfortunate but unalterable reality.

Fighting

Treat diseases and traumas as problems which can be solved. Knowing that they will kill you and everyone you love, focus your effort on being in a position to mitigate and better understand how they affect a person's body.


Denying and accepting are tantamount to doing nothing. Fighting has the potential to disrupt your life, but has a slight chance of preventing one of the most significant losses anyone can experience. I'm not sure which approach is the best. For now, I chose to fight. My goal is to help accelerate research, such that we can make discoveries, release new treatments, and prevent tragedies.

But the impact of this is undetermined. A life's attempt to advance a field can produce nothing. As an even greater risk, what if gene editing techniques become advanced enough to allow for arbitrary editing of a person's genome, and a researcher can destructively target a mutation only present in a minority ethnic group? These are serious concerns [1].

If the impact of trying to advance a field has a significant potential to be neutral or negative, then why do people do it? Although new technology X might cause horrible event Y, X could also take your { "child", "significant other", "friend", "parent", "grandparent", "sibling", "aunt", "uncle", "cousin" ... } from the hospital bed back home. That's a potential worth fighting for.

Although I can't go back in time to help the researchers in Alex's case, there are still billions of people affected by various diseases who could benefit from new research. My goal is to accelerate that process.

Alex Lebovic with her dog, Dakota.

[1] Targeting ethnic groups using their DNA has already been used by the Chinese government to surveil the Uighurs.

Thank you Madeleine Lebovic and Justin Herr for reading drafts of this.

Header image credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH - NIAID