In New Leadership Role, Student Gives Voice to Young Cancer Patients

Posted in GUMC Stories

FEBRUARY 12, 2014 – A Georgetown University Medical Center graduate student—who is president of his class—has assumed a new leadership role with a national cancer nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the lives of teens and young adults with cancer.

Daniel Bral, who is pursuing his master’s degree in physiology and biophysics in Georgetown’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine Program (new window), is the newly appointed chair of Teen Cancer America’s Young People’s Advisory Committee. Teen Cancer America (new window) was co-founded by Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, of the rock band The Who, who were inspired by a similar program they had established in the United Kingdom.

Having been diagnosed at age 11 with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of white blood cells, Bral brings important contributions to the committee, according to the organization’s leadership.

“With Daniel leading the advisory committee, Teen Cancer America can be sure that the interests of the young people it serves will always be at the forefront of our developments,” says the organization’s executive director, Simon Davies.

The Young People’s Advisory Committee helps advocate for teens and young adults across the country who are facing cancer—raising their needs and concerns to the board of directors.

Battling cancer during teenage years brings a set of unique challenges. While teens typically strive for independence, dealing with an illness such as cancer requires a heavy dependence on others.

“There is a lot going on at that age that needs to be attended to and medical professionals should be cognizant of it,” Bral says. “Puberty, for example, is a huge thing that we can’t overlook. It’s a hard experience and teens are already going through a difficult point in their lives with battling cancer.”

Helping Create a Calming Environment

Bral first met Davies through their work in establishing the Daltrey/Townshend Teen and Young Adult Cancer Program at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, which works to improve the quality of care for teens and young adults with cancer. The Who’s Daltrey and Townshend co-founded the unit.

Beginning in 2012, Bral gained valuable experience by helping plan and design UCLA’s young adult unit. He attended meetings with architects and interior designers and offered feedback based on his own memory of being a teen fighting cancer.

For example, Bral recalls how the design for the walls at UCLA originally planned to use tiny dots, a style similar to comic books, and bright colors such as orange and yellow. When the samples were printed out, Bral and other survivors provided feedback that the image pattern and colors could exacerbate nausea for patients undergoing chemotherapy and remind them of the chemotherapy and their illness.

“That’s not what we want to do,” Bral says. “We want to create an environment that is calming and cultivates a healing environment.”

Pursuing a Childhood Dream

In addition to his new duties with Teen Cancer America and his position as class president, Bral is working towards his childhood dream of becoming a doctor. Upon completing his master’s degree, Bral hopes to attend medical school and someday to practice integrative medicine.

“As a child, I wanted to discover how things worked,” Bral says. “I would take apart radios, televisions and whatever I could get my hands on. I just didn’t know how to put them back together.”

This curiosity has fueled his desire to pursue a career in medicine and learn more about the body, and his Georgetown education provides the ideal vehicle to get there, he says.

“Being in a physiology program I really get to learn about the way the body works, what happens when things go wrong, and learn about the complementary and integrative medical approach to helping with the healing process,” Bral says.

Though only in his second semester at Georgetown, Bral has made an impression on his classmates and teachers, including on Aviad Haramati, PhD (new window), professor of biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology, who co-directs the CAM program.

“Daniel is a very bright, inquisitive and insightful student who came to our CAM program to learn about the state of the science for various alternative and integrative approaches to treating chronic illness,” Haramati says. “As the class president, he leads by example, displaying both objectivity and empathy. I am sure he will be a great asset to Teen Cancer America in his leadership role.”

By Sarah Reik
GUMC Communications