In the midst of all of our hard work, we set time to sit down with Mackenzie Bowman, Senior Scientist in our lab, and Victoria Candy, Queen’s Master’s student, and talk about their perspective on bleeding disorders and their role in the Let’s Talk Period team.
Mackenzie was hired in 2004 as a Research Assistant, completed her PhD at Queen’s, and then her Post Doctorate under Dr. James. She now holds an integral role in Dr. James’ lab in Hematology in the Department of Medicine at Queen’s University. Victoria Graduated from Queen’s University in 2015 with a degree (BScH) in Life Science. Started in 2015 as an MSc student in the James lab.
Mackenzie, what made you decide to do your PhD with Paula after working as her research assistant?
Mackenzie: When I interviewed for the research assistant job initially, I had in the back of my mind that I wanted to do a PhD at some point. We just worked it out together – it was a good fit for me to stay on and do that, and then after the PhD to stay on for an indefinite amount of time! The initial work I did was on Bleeding Scores, and back then (2004), the vision was that there would be this tool that we could get out to the public – not necessarily the Self-BAT, but something that we could put out there and make available, even for the family physician to have something to administer to their patients. There was always the idea to have something more readily available.
Wow. And Tori, what made you decide to work for Paula?
Tori: So, I took courses at Queen’s during my undergrad in Pathology, and that got me connected with David Lillicrap, who then introduced me to Paula. The nature of the project, that it was so clinical, piqued my interest. The struggle with research is that you can feel like you are just doing grunt work, and you don’t see how your work is impacting patients. My project is so clinical that it combines bench work with patient interaction. It can feel like you might be helping the patients first hand, instead of down a long line – it’s rewarding.
Victoria: I shared the Let’s Talk Period website when it launched – I sent this message to my network, “Check this out, and pass it along to anyone you think it might apply to. It’s really cool, awesome work that our lab is doing.” I also liked it on Facebook. Because I liked it, it popped up on some of my other friends’ newsfeeds, so they saw what it was. I talk about it a lot, and a lot of people in my network have liked it because of that.
From a clinical perspective – why do you think the Self-BAT is important
Victoria: It provides an easily accessible way to quantify, on a scale – to assess your bleeding. For a lot of women, the only people they may talk to about their period is their mom, or sister. Because bleeding disorders have a genetic component, if you’re talking to your mom and your sister about bleeding, and wondering if it’s normal, then they are probably not a great frame of reference. They may potentially have similar levels of bleeding, so it’s a good tool in that sense. The biggest thing about the Self-BAT is that it’s accessible – even for men. You can do it yourself, instead of having to go into a clinic and have someone administer a questionnaire for you. The fact that it’s easy to complete and do on your own makes it very important.
Mackenzie: And you can do it anonymously, too. Some people are probably nervous to go talk to their doctor. They might think they are overreacting, but then if they do the Self-BAT it might just give them a nudge, that confidence, to think “okay, I really do need to go talk to a doctor about this.”
I think it’s important to get that information out there to people. It’s okay, especially for young women, to talk about bleeding symptoms. Talking about their periods is not taboo, and it’s important to recognize what is normal versus abnormal. They may have grown up thinking their period is normal because their mom, or sister, or both have similar situations, but the Self-BAT may show them that, “oh, this isn’t normal and we all might have a problem.” With that knowledge they can further investigate.
What is one thing that you know now about bleeding disorders that you think other people need to know?
Mackenzie: It’s hard for me, because I have been involved so long, to think about something new. But I think getting out there just how common this is, and the whole normal versus abnormal, is a big thing.
Victoria: Hardly anyone knows what von Willebrand disease is. It’s not super common, but common enough that people should have an idea of what it is. So just making people more aware that these diseases exist, and that there are such great treatments for them available. It’s awful that even someone with just a mild case can go untreated, when in fact their quality of life could be improved by a pretty easy and effective treatment.
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