iSpecimen Outside of the Office: A Conversation with Jill Mullan
February 10, 2016
While iSpecimen serves the research community every day through our professional endeavors, the advancement of medicine is also deeply personal to us. Many of our employees do their part to further medical discovery outside of the office, through participation in fundraising, races for a cause, and other like-minded endeavors. Jill Mullan, our Chief Operating Officer, volunteers as a research subject for medical studies. We are pleased to spotlight her in this week’s blog post and take a closer look at how she furthers research on her own time.
Q: How do you contribute to medical research?
A: I donate my time and participation through a non-profit organization called ResearchMatch, which connects researchers at academic medical centers with volunteers who meet their participant criteria. I’ve now served as a research subject in several different types of studies.
Q: What prompted you to do this?
A: A year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. While exploring my treatment options, a colleague recommended that I look into clinical trials that might allow me access to new treatments and perhaps more rigorous examinations and follow up. Luckily, I ended up beating cancer without waiting to be enrolled in a trial, but I never forgot about the value I could provide to researchers as a cancer survivor. I started to look for ways to contribute and that is how I found ResearchMatch.
Q: Is it a coincidence that you work for a company that accelerates research and you choose to do so on your own time?
A: Of course working at iSpecimen has strengthened my awareness of the research need for both people and their specimens, but my interest in getting involved with research efforts actually started long before I began working with iSpecimen or even in the field of healthcare. And also, well before my cancer diagnosis. Roughly 15 years ago, I signed up for Be The Match because a friend had cancer and needed a bone marrow transplant. I wasn’t able to help that friend, but four years ago I was contacted for another patient. It was the highlight of my year, thinking that I might be able to save someone’s life. Unfortunately, after completing the next screening steps I didn’t get chosen. I was so disappointed. Now that I’ve had cancer, I’m no longer qualified and I also can’t donate blood. These new limitations made me feel excluded, like I couldn’t contribute in a way I wanted to. I mean, I know I’ll never be a WNBA player either, but it bothered me that I couldn’t directly save a life due to my diagnosis and I wanted to find other opportunities to do exactly that.
Q: iSpecimen uses the term “philanthropic patient” regularly, what does that mean to you?
A: To me, I feel I have a personal responsibility to do what I can to help, so I guess I am a philanthropic patient. Even as a little kid I participated in focus groups because I liked contributing and being part of something. Working at iSpecimen has helped me realize that you can help a whole lot of people by participating in even one research study, and that feels really good.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the studies in which you have participated?
A: Most of them have been survey-based, though the most interesting one to me was not as survey-focused as the others. It was for the University of Texas, they were looking for women with a past diagnosis of breast cancer. They wanted one group to test a mindfulness app and I was in that group. It was an 8-week long study in which they gave us full access to the app and sent an accompanying survey every two weeks with the same questions about family, stress, happiness, etc. The app itself was a five-minute self-guided meditation intended to teach one how to be mindful – present in the moment. They were clearly testing to see if those who used app were feeling differently than those who didn’t. I actually still use some of the techniques I learned when I’m having a stressful day.
Q: Would you say this is an exciting time for treatment research?
A: Certainly! Especially with all the latest advancements in personalized medicine. In fact, I find medical research so exciting today that it is part of why I began working with iSpecimen. Our CEO Chris Ianelli called and gave me the corporate elevator pitch; I was sold in 30 seconds. I was at a point in life where I could be choosy about what was next. The research and altruism aspect of our company really resonated with me as opposed to a company that simply made investors money.
Q: Should more people participate in research efforts?
A: It takes a village, so with research the more people that participate the more personalized it becomes, ironically.
Q: To address the elephant in the room, how is your health today?
A: I am healthy, strong, and excited about the future. Because of my family history, I chose an aggressive treatment option for my cancer – a bilateral mastectomy – and since my lymph nodes were clear I didn’t have to go through chemo or radiation. I’m really grateful to be healthy and I’m looking forward to participating in more studies to help others.