… I am a cancer research technician.

This chapter of my life started in 2007. When you graduate from high school, you are 18years old here in Belgium. 18 years and you have to make a decision about what you want to do with your life. At that time I was fascinated by everything involving Science, especially Biology. So when I had to make that important decision, I just followed my interests. I first wanted to be a Veterinarian, because that was my dream when I was a child, but I realized that I wasn’t emotionally strong enough to care for sick animals. I love them too much to see them suffer in a way. The decision I made back then was a bachelor degree in Biomedial Laboratory Technology. The words ‘research’, ‘going abroad’ and ‘laboratory’ really drew me attention back then and I decided to go for it.
From day one I made it my goal to be one of the lucky students who could go abroad for their traineeship. Knowing, that I loved being home with my parents and that I preferred staying at home, reading a good book instead of going to parties, made this decision kinda brave. These characteristics haven’t changed by the way while growing up. And I actually don’t mind at all.

The degree I did was something that was easy for me. I never really had to study, I only had to put a bit more effort into Statistics.
It felt normal, being in a lab at school to learn all the basics. Carrying out chemical tests, making ointments in Pharmacology, counting blood cells and doing research… I loved it all!

Wearing a lab coat was one of my favorite things

One of my all time favorite courses was Pathology. Gaining more insight into the human body was so fascinating and enriching for me. Not really sure why exactly, but ‘cancer’ became my biggest interest. We all know how bad cancer can be. Being able to understand the complex pathways that play a role in the development of cancer, is overwhelming. It is so complex and challenging for all the cancer researchers out there to find a solution. And being a tiny part of a solution, really appealed to me. So, my decision was easily made. I applied for a position at the ‘Barts Cancer Institute’ in London for my traineeship.

When the day came in 2010 to actually leave for London for about 3 months I was feeling all kinds of emotions. Excitement for my adventure to start, sadness because I was leaving my family. Nervousness, because I was gonna be part of an amazing research team, working on a project of which I basically didn’t have any knowledge of whatsoever. Insecurity, because I didn’t know if I was gonna be good enough. But, above all, I was also proud for making that decision and accepting the challenge to get to know myself better, my qualities, learn more and to gain more confidence.

The amazing research team

The first weeks were the hardest, because I was doing my best to adjust to everything; a new environment, speaking English all the time, being on your ‘own’. But I felt so at ease in the lab. I was seen as an equal in a way, even though I didn’t have any experience. The topic of my thesis was ‘The impact of p110 delta on the cancer  microenvironment’. It covered my favorite courses Pathology and Immunology. Seeing cancer cells for the first time under a microscope, was the moment I realized that my future lied within cancer research.

4T1 Breast Cancer Cells

Those 3 months were life changing in every possible way. Besides the fact that I had to write a thesis about my work in English, which wasn’t easy at all since English isn’t my native language, but it made the challenge even greater! I really did have an awesome time back then. I had the most amazing support system; regular skype sessions with my parents and sisters, my 2 amazing friends who surprised me by coming over to London, the London squirrels with whom I really bonded during that period, sightseeing in London… and even though I was alone in London for my 21st birthday I surprised myself by going to the BAFTA awards and seeing Prince William up close. Also seeing Clive Owen was pretty amazing! 🙂  I was basically shocked by myself, because I was doing so well and I really got to know myself better. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the same Felien without this experience.

Sometimes it is great to get confirmation of your talents. When my traineeship ended this was my evaluation by my mentor.
‘In the 3 months that Felien has been in the lab she has learned a great deal about lab research / life. The experience has clearly made a positive impact on her and she is now contemplating a potential research career. My experience of working with Felien has been excellent, she is motivated and very competent, I wish we had more students like this, and I truly hope she carries on in scientific research.’
That evaluation was exactly what I needed back then.

The past 4 years I’ve been trying to look for the right challenges for me in cancer research. Currently I’m working in a laboratory focusing on immunotherapy and cancer & infectious disease research. Before that I worked on Medical Protein research.

In 2007, I made the decision to chase my interest in cancer research. We make decisions based on facts, interests and what you know or even feel at that time. My only focus back then was cancer research and trying to be as good as possible. I love being challenged and lifelong learning is a must in my life. At this point, I’m growing as a person and it is logic, I think, that you develop new interests. I love my job, there is no doubt about that. I’m grateful for what I do now, cancer research is a fascinating field. I recently discovered another passion and I sometimes wonder what if I try to chase that passion too, take some risks,… leave my comfort zone.