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Behind the Ribbon: Margaret Flowers, PhD

By BCRF | October 25, 2016

After Many Roads, Finding a Home in a Mission to End Breast Cancer

For Margaret Flowers, Associate Director, Grants and Scientific Communications, the road to BCRF was an unconventional one marked by diverse experiences with the defining moment being the loss of her mother to metastatic breast cancer in 1991 that rerouted her career path from chef to scientist.

After completing high-school in Wilmington, DE, Margaret trained as a pastry chef in the Washington D.C. area, but her gypsy spirit would ultimately take her on the road. She spent most her 20’s traversing the U.S. in an outfitted van, paying the way with itinerant cooking jobs, while acquiring other skills including foundry work, silversmithing and Native American artistry.

Shortly after starting this journey in 1985, Margaret learned that her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. After initial successful therapy, the cancer reoccurred as lung metastasis.

In the fall of 1990, Margaret drove from Arizona to be her mother’s caregiver.  She passed away in January 1991 with her family and dog at her side.

In the wake of her mother’s passing, Margaret sought the solace and anonymity of the road and remote reaches of Wyoming. After a prolonged healing process, she traded the van for a motorcycle and returned to Tucson.

In Tucson, Margaret worked as a chef at Canyon Ranch Resort & Spa, leading cooking classes and demonstrations. The resort’s emphasis on whole body wellness reignited her lifelong interest in health, and at age 40, she embarked on a new journey and returned to college to follow her passion in health and nutrition.

In the process, she fell in love with biochemistry and molecular nutrition and was inspired by one of her professors to pursue cancer research.

“A light bulb went off in my head during one of his lectures. He was talking about how tamoxifen had changed the treatment of ER positive disease. I thought of my mother and felt a calling.”

Margaret completed her PhD in Nutritional Science and Cancer Biology at age 49 followed by a two-year postdoctoral fellowship.

“I was in my early 50’s as I approached the end of my postdoctoral research. I knew the challenges of starting an academic research career at my age, so I shifted focus to the nonprofit sector where I could apply my science training and passion in breast cancer,” said Margaret.

Margaret worked at Susan G. Komen as a Grant Administrator for 2 ½ years before coming to BCRF in 2014, largely attracted by its unique grant-making process and an enthusiastic and visionary leadership.

“When I met the BCRF team, I was impressed by a sense of urgency and felt that BCRF was at a pivotal point in its mission history. Ever since my mother’s cancer, I’ve wanted to find some way to change the story. I could sense that BCRF was positioned to do that and I felt compelled to leave my home in Tucson to join the BCRF team.”

Today Margaret serves as Associate Director of the Grants Program overseeing all administrative aspects and helps in the development and implementation of procedures for the grant program as a whole. She is the point-person for scientific communications, identifying scientific news and connecting with the grantees to help communicate research advances to the BCRF community.

“Working with the researchers is like being in the sound room of a music production. The music is being made in front your eyes and I’m thinking ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’ The world has yet to hear this and I’m watching it being made,” she said.

“I have a picture of my mother on my desk, taken when she was in remission. I originally taped it to the visor on my van to feel close to her during my travels.  It has been on every desk I’ve worked at since, throughout college, grad school, post grad and now here,” said Margaret.

“Every day it reminds me why I am doing what I’m doing. And every day I like to let her know that we are making progress.”