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Family Cancer Diagnosis Sparks Passion for Oncology

March 18, 2021
by Matt Kristoffersen

Danielle Kline, M.P.H. ’22, learned what it’s like to have a loved one struggle with breast cancer watching her mother battle the deadly disease.

During her mother’s hospital visits and checkups with doctors, Kline saw how dedicated healthcare workers were in helping her mother get better and how generous they were answering all of her questions. As her mother’s health gradually improved, those interactions with her mother’s treatment team convinced Kline to pursue a career in oncology.

As a student at the Yale School of Public Health, Kline is doing just that.

“Cancer isn’t a disease that affects a single aspect of one’s life. It changes spirituality, worldview, and turns priorities upside-down,” she said. “My family became my everything and my interactions with doctors proved transformative, opening my eyes to the intricacies of the medical field and leaving me with a hunger to learn more.”

Since defining her academic focus, Kline has worked with a number of cancer organizations and conducted a number of epidemiological studies, including extensive contributions to a City of Hope study on the lives of cancer survivors after their treatment. She also participates annually in the Young Survival Coalition’s annual Tour de Pink, a bike ride that raises money to support those impacted by breast cancer.

“My interest was piqued by my mom’s diagnosis, but what has led me to stay in the realm of breast cancer epidemiology and breast cancer oncology is the connections I’ve made along the way,” she said.

After choosing Yale because of its top-ranked cancer center and innovative research efforts, Kline focused her studies in the field of Chronic Disease Epidemiology. Her regular encounters with faculty — including a socially distanced walk and Zoom conversation with Professor Melinda Irwin, Ph.D, M.P.H., associate dean of research and a prominent cancer researcher — were tremendously helpful. Kline said that her personal connections with faculty who cared about her success made her feel especially empowered in setting her long-term goals.

“Coming from a big state school, I never had those experiences,” said Kline, who earned her undergraduate degree in public health at the University of California, Berkeley. “Straight out of the gate, I’ve felt welcomed.”

Her own encounters with a heart condition that required extensive medical care also pushed her toward a career in medicine. After eventually being cured with one minimally invasive surgery — and seeing her mother recover from cancer — Kline said she wanted to deepen her interest in scientific research to help provide hope to others.

She continues to participate in research projects at the City of Hope, a comprehensive cancer center, and she would like to pursue an investigation of clinician burnout and its impact on patient outcomes.

Kline eventually hopes to attend medical school and become an oncologist. Her education at the YSPH will be a great asset, she said.

“I intend to apply my personal experiences in the service of those who face daunting medical challenges and lack the resources necessary to afford quality healthcare,” Kline said. “A master’s of public health from Yale University will not only provide foundational knowledge on how to address these overlapping challenges, but will allow me to gain invaluable research experience along the way.”

Submitted by Ivette Aquilino on March 18, 2021