Inspiring woman: An interview with Associate Prof. Wendy Ingman
Working hard to reduce the impact of breast cancer, Associate Professor Wendy Ingman puts her flare for science and passion for helping others to good use with Intimo’s Australian charity partner, Australian Breast Cancer Research. With a lengthy list of roles and responsibilities including The Hospital Research Foundation (THRF) and Australian Breast Cancer Research Fellow; Lead Researcher, Breast Biology & Cancer Unit, Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research; University of Adelaide and The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, South Australia, we like to think of Wendy as Wonder Woman in a lab coat.
Who is Wendy Ingman outside of ABCR?
Primarily, I’m a mother. I have four kids aged between two and twelve – three boys and a little girl. They take up a lot of my time. I try to find the time to go for a quiet walk every now and then but I don’t really have time for things like television. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. I don’t even get to watch Game of Thrones!
Did you always want to be involved in medical research, or did you have other career goals when in University/growing up?
I was very unconventional in my interests. I thought maths was really cool. I did want to be a doctor so I was doing a lot of science subjects at school just because I thought that’s what I needed to do to get into medicine.
I got to the end of high school and felt like I wasn’t really done with learning about the world around me. I think it’s really amazing that we walk around with not much understanding or knowledge of what goes on inside our bodies every day. Breathing and moving and thinking; all of these processes are controlled by tiny little cells, signals and proteins. I fell in love with biology and how the body works. The more you learn, the more amazing it is.
Breast cancer research is obviously quite a technical area of expertise. How do your kids describe what you do?
I think they’ve heard the word macrophages a few times (which are the sort of cell type that I work on) but they mostly identify my work as doing something good so that fewer women are affected by breast cancer.
What is it about ABCR that keeps you committed to your research?
The potential impact that one day something that I’ve been involved in discovering could make a difference to people’s lives is really something that keeps me going. I’m a bit of a dreamer so I like to dream about the future and all the possibilities about the research that we’re doing and where it could take us. When we do an experiment, we’re asking a question about how the human body works. No one knows the answer so when we discover something new, it’s actually something that nobody else in the world knows. And that’s a really exciting part of my job.
Can you recall a particular experience that made your research feel all the more worthwhile?
There are some really amazing women out there. Breast cancer is a really confronting, tough diagnosis – physically and emotionally. I think women who have young families and have breast cancer – sometimes terminal breast cancer – are so amazing. They really have so much strength and they don’t necessarily feel strong themselves but they’re looking after their families and dealing with this diagnosis. They’re the people who inspire me.
What have you found is the best way to connect with women about breast cancer and its causes?
Women get bombarded with information. We hear every week a new study that says, “eat this” or “drink that” or “don’t eat this” so it becomes difficult to communicate the real information.
I think to keep it simple and work out a message that is as universal as possible. I always promote breast awareness because the earlier you can detect a breast cancer, the greater your chance of surviving it and having a reduced severity of treatment as well. That’s where I’d start.
With so many charities and organisations dedicated to breast cancer prevention, research, and treatment, what is it that makes your research different?
I think we’re all putting together pieces of the puzzle. There’s a lot of collaboration and cooperation between breast cancer researchers. My team collaborates with other researchers across Australia and overseas.
Someone in the U.K. might make a discovery, which then sparks my interest in a particular finding, enabling me to make a discovery that’s built on the initial research. Then someone else in Canada sees it and they run with it in a different direction. So, we all end up being part of building a clearer image of what breast cancer is and how we can prevent it.
What role does fundraising play in the development of research?
Fundraising is a really essential part of doing the research that we do. If we didn’t have the wonderful support of the community and organisations such as Australian Breast Cancer Research, I’m not sure that we would be here doing the work that we’re doing. The support of Intimo, for example, is very welcome and really fantastic for us to be able to afford to employ people and pay for the research that we do.
There are always opportunities for women to hold their own fundraiser and choose the charity that they support. I’ve spoken at various fundraisers that women in the community have organised. The people that support the research are all an integral part of the work we’re doing.
How would you recommend mothers approach the topic of breast health and body awareness with their daughters?
I guess there’s a lot of talk about how parents influence their children with the words that they use and how they treat their own bodies. My daughter is only two but she already copies everything that I do. Being a good role model is a good start. Be open and talk about what you’re doing. If young girls know their mum is looking after her body and checking her breasts then they might see this as a routine part of what women do to look after themselves.
Throughout October, Intimo will donate 10% of all purchases made in fundraising bookings to our Australian charity partner Australian Breast Cancer Research (ABCR) to aid Wendy’s much-needed research into breast cancer prevention and improved treatments. ABCR directs 100% of all donations to the cause and that’s good news for all of us.
To help the cause, share the message of breast awareness with the special women in your life and host your own fundraiser.