TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Some of the most harrowing, depressing news any person can receive is to hear they have it.
It's never inviting, nor does it help anyone. And often the reaction to hearing you or someone you know has it is hollow, saddened disbelief, crying or depression.
It, in this case, is cancer.
Two Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology faculty members, and husband and wife, have dealt with hearing that one had breast cancer, and the other had prostate cancer all within a few months of each other.
"I was really stunned and surprised," reflected Rose-Hulman Professor of Mechanical Engineering Lorraine Olson about her early diagnosis of breast cancer in 2005. "I had thought that I wasn't even close to being at risk, since I was only 45. My husband [Robert Throne] was also surprised."
Olson's husband, Robert Throne, head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rose-Hulman, was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few months later.
"He had a bit of a scare earlier with prostate cancer, and his dad had it, so I don't think we were quite as surprised by his diagnosis. In a way, it was easier for both of us to go through the uncertainty at the same time," stated Olson.
What could have been viewed as a dark spot in their life actually inspired the couple to apply ideas from their current research into breast cancer detection.
"We had been working on more accurate detection of heart problems but were running low on good ideas. Then, when these problems came along, I remembered a presentation I had seen years earlier. That had us thinking we might have something to contribute in this area," said Olson.
The couple theorizes that a robotic machine used to measure forces at different points on the breast can calculate and render a map with possible locations of abnormal growth.
To put it simply, a robot will supplement the physician's breast exam, recording information for future comparisons, and highlighting points of possible cancer growths. This would allow for earlier detection.
"Right now, we only have theories about what might work. In the simplest version, when a woman goes for their annual exam the physician would first do the normal breast exam. Then, a small robot would be used to perform a similar exam: it would gently indent the tissue in a variety of places and record the forces it took," state Olson.
The research is in its infancy, and the couple will continue computer simulations of the process to work out possible flaws; however, the couple hopes the project will remain relatively inexpensive.
Olson and Throne demonstrate how to make the best out of what life gives you.
"I think everyone deals with cancer in their own way. Professionally, we decided to spend our research time in a different way," Olson mentioned. "Personally, we both got motorcycles and learned to ride them."
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