A Filipina professor’s diagnosis and intolerance for blood led her to studying colorectal cancer

Assistant Professor Mary de Vera from the University of British Columbia has been studying diseases for years.

She also teaches at the UBC’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Born in Mexico, Pampanga but raised in Prince Rupert, BC, she says being an achiever in school prepared her to pursue medicine early.

But it was intolerance for blood that led her to medical research.

In 2016, De Vera was diagnosed with colorectal cancer while on maternity leave with her second child.

Her symptoms were common for new moms–fatigue and weight loss.

But it was unusual bleeding that pushed her to get tested.

The results left her in denial for months as she went through a series of tests to confirm the diagnosis.

De Vera has been treated and is currently under surveillance.

“I see a lot of work that needs to be done especially for young-onset colorectal cancer, it is historically known as a disease for older people…when you look in the literature, there’s not much work done in young colorectal cancer.”

De Vera blogged about her cancer treatment and journey, and realized a lot of questions remain unanswered for other young patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer like her.

So instead of continuing to blog, she went back to what she did best: research.

After writing 4 failed research grant applications, De Vera received two grants in 2018.

The first was to survey cancer patients and survivors about their information needs, and a 2nd grant worth $459,000 to study whether there is changing risk for colorectal cancer among younger people and what can be done about it.

“If risk is increasing, we need to raise more awareness…I had no idea, I would be the last person to get colorectal cancer..young, female, exercise, eat healthy… if it could happen to me, it could happen to other young people.”

De Vera credits her family’s support, parish community, friends and colleagues for being with her throughout her cancer journey.

She knows that with her research, she’ll be able to give back more.

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