'It Was Personal.' After Tragedy, Physicist Devotes Career To Cancer Research Hadiyah-Nicole Green lost the aunt and uncle who raised her to cancer. The loss inspired her to develop a cancer treatment using lasers. "I was born to do this," she tells her cousin at StoryCorps.
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'It Was Personal.' After Tragedy, Physicist Devotes Career To Cancer Research

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'It Was Personal.' After Tragedy, Physicist Devotes Career To Cancer Research

'It Was Personal.' After Tragedy, Physicist Devotes Career To Cancer Research

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/888902565/889653246" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

On this Friday, it's time for StoryCorps. By the time she was 4, Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green had lost her mother and was sent to live with her aunt and uncle in St. Louis. In her early 20s, they were both diagnosed with cancer. She came to StoryCorps with her cousin Tenika Floyd to remember them.

TENIKA FLOYD: What comes to mind when you think of your aunt and uncle?

HADIYAH-NICOLE GREEN: My best memories were big family gatherings, where we would sit for hours and pick greens...

FLOYD: (Laughter).

GREEN: ...Collard greens and turnip greens, (laughter) mustard greens. We would cook all day. And Auntie - she didn't wear a lot of makeup, and she was a simple beauty. She was very conservative in her dress. I don't remember ever seeing her knees or her cleavage (laughter).

FLOYD: No, ma'am.

GREEN: No, ma'am (laughter).

FLOYD: What was the hardest part about caring for them?

GREEN: Auntie was very headstrong about wanting to die on her own terms. The cancer was eating her from the inside out. And she declared that she didn't want to receive any chemo or radiation. And she wanted to die at her home. And she wanted to see her youngest son get married and see me graduate from college.

FLOYD: OK.

GREEN: And she actually came down to Alabama A&M for my graduation. I remember looking over and seeing her tear up. She deteriorated within a matter of months. And then three months after she passed, Uncle General Lee was diagnosed with cancer. They were really all I had. And for them both to be affected by cancer - it was very disturbing. I started working on cancer treatments around my fourth year in graduate school. And untangling the code of the chemistry took me back to the days of having to untangle Auntie's jewelry. It really was a meticulous process of picking through and unlooping.

And to have the patience to sit there with something long enough day after day - it was to me almost a one-to-one correlation. And it opened up for me like a gift. And I'm like, I'm in this lab killing cancer. It to me seems that I was born to do this, you know? Maybe if they hadn't raised me and I didn't have all these heart strings attached to them, I could've just moved on and gone on with life. But I couldn't.

FLOYD: Because it was personal.

GREEN: Because it was personal. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: That was Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green speaking with her cousin Tenika Floyd. Dr. Green is an assistant professor at Morehouse School of Medicine. She also founded the Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation in honor of her late aunt. That conversation will be archived in the Library of Congress.

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