Kirsten Moysich has become a leading advocate in Western New York for cancer patients.
She's also a very good role model when it comes to healthy living.
Moysich, professor of oncology and member of the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, focuses most of her research on the impact of exercise in cancer treatment.
"I usually ride my bike to work … unless there's snow on the ground," said the native of Hanover, Germany. "When that happens, I usually walk to the subway because my daughter took my car away. It makes me feel young. In grad school, I didn't have a car. It's also a good way to get in the exercise."
Moysich, 50, came to Buffalo to visit friends three decades ago — and planted roots.
She got her bachelor's degree in psychology from SUNY Buffalo State, and her master's and doctorate degrees in epidemiology — the study of how diseases work, and might be controlled — from the University at Buffalo. She joined the research staff at Roswell Park in 1998 and, in the years since, has become a force in the cancer community in the region and beyond.
Q: Why have you stayed in the region all these years?
A: I have another good friend here who's also from Germany and we always say, "Let's not tell people about Buffalo, let's keep it to ourselves." It's a wonderful city, very interesting. There's a lot to offer: great culture, great food. Being downtown right now is just amazing. When we interview people that we want to recruit, I have this nice corner office and show them the new UB med school on the left and the new Children's Hospital on the right and the Conventus Building in the middle. It's just incredible.
Q: Why focus on cancer research, particularly on the preventative end?
A: When I started my master's program, having come from a psych background, I thought I was going to do psychiatric epidemiology. But I had the opportunity to work on a cancer study and I knew within three weeks that this was what I wanted to do. It's important. I say that to my students all the time. We have careers, not jobs. What we do really, really matters and has an impact on many people.
Being at a cancer center, I think, is important for cancer researchers. We walk through those doors all the time and we see the patients, how scared and sometimes how devastated they are. It's something I can relate to because we had cancer scares in our family.
Q: You've mentored a lot of new researchers. What excites and challenges you about that work?
A: It's the best part of my job. You recently interviewed Dr. (Rikki) Cannioto (about exercise and cancer outcomes) and she's probably one of my most successful mentees. … It's a great day at work for me when one of my students publishes their first paper.
Q: You're also involved in a lot of advocacy work, particularly with the National Breast Cancer Coalition's Project LEAD Program. You're also a health care advisory council member of Gilda's Club of WNY. Can you talk about that?
A: It's something I'm very proud of. I've been teaching for Project LEAD for probably over 10 years. They hold a one-week, very intense educational program where they teach cancer biology and epidemiology to people who are cancer advocates. I usually teach three to four lectures on epidemiology. It's the most gratifying, the most fun teaching that I do. These women are in the classroom from 7 in the morning until 6 at night, and then they have homework assignments. It's very intense but they really, really want to learn.
Q: What most impresses you about the cancer survivorship community?
A: These people have been through it. They're incredibly dedicated. They really want to figure out this disease. I'm friends with Kathleen Maxian, who's leading the Ovarian Cancer Project of Western New York. What she does in terms of advocacy, and how generous she is with her time — not only with support groups but pushing forward the science — is remarkable. We have a large grant focused on ovarian cancer and she's on our patient advisory board. It is really important to not only listen to the scientists, but also listen to people who have been through it.
Q: What needs of survivors could be better met in our region?
A: It comes back to what I really care about. I think we should get them more active. That's applicable to anyone in the Western New York region. Too much of the population is overweight and obese. Weight gain is a particular problem for some cancer survivors, and that's not because they want to be inactive, but they’re going through cancer therapy that's a tough journey. It would be very beneficial on many levels to try to get cancer survivors more active, not only during treatment but also after treatment. This is something we are thinking very hard about.
Q: What do you wish the public understood more about cancer prevention and treatment?
A: In terms of cancer prevention, obviously clean living is important. We know that smoking is related to cancer. We know that not exercising is related to cancer. The data are not as consistent as we want in terms of diet and cancer — but it cannot hurt to have a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and lean meats. We know that's very helpful for cardiovascular disease prevention. Data for cancer risk is a little bit all over the place. Some show benefits of fruits and vegetables. Others don't. That might be due to the fact that we often are interested in exposures that occurred 10, 20 years before the cancer is diagnosed, so we might not do a good enough job in actively measuring the dietary behaviors when it should count in terms of cancer development.
Q: What research have you been in that gives the greatest sense of accomplishment?
A: Definitely our series of papers on physical inactivity. We have looked so far at eight tumors where we found that people who are physically inactive have greater cancer risk, ranging anywhere from a subtle increase of 30 percent up to a 300 percent increase in risk. It's gratifying for me because we can do something about it, we can tell people, "You don't have to run a marathon or half a marathon, or run a 5K every other day, but you have to do a little bit. You cannot not do anything."
It's difficult to completely quit smoking. It's difficult to change your diet. It's difficult to lose weight. But it's not difficult to take the stairs instead of the elevator. It's not difficult to get up every once in a while and take a 5-minute walk in the hallway during work hours.