hosted more than 30 students who stayed from six months to a year.
As well, her parents had “a really strong focus on justice. It was part of
my daily life from the time I can remember.” Her late father, Werner, was a
respected optometry professor and inventor at the University of Waterloo.
Her mother, Elisabeth, was a role model for openness and community involvement, someone who rolled up her sleeves and helped when she saw
someone or something that needed attention.
“We talked about the world, but the world was at our table,” says Dr.
Adrian. Such an experience, she says, “creates a very specific type of environment that is outward-looking, receptive to culture and ideas, that forces
you to negotiate your identity all the time. … I have sisters and brothers
around the world because of that.” As a high-school student, she travelled
on international exchanges, becoming fluent in Spanish and French.
Her pedagogical ideas really started to germinate when she became
a Harvard lecturer after finishing her PhD in 2007. During those “three
wonderful years,” she experimented with variations on flipped classrooms
and field trips to religious sites, even art galleries, to help students connect
what was being discussed in the classroom to how it played out in the
world beyond Harvard.
Her legal orientation had come from her master’s program under the
direction of the late Kevin Boyle, a human rights lawyer and activist at
the University of Essex. Once she arrived on campus in 1998, she learned
that the star attraction that had drawn her to Essex in the first place was
on sabbatical. She negotiated her way into doing research for Dr. Boyle
during his break and he helped pave her way by bringing her along on his
speaking engagements – one to the British parliament on interreligious
dialogue – and promoted her CV to academics in the field once she an-
nounced her intention to pursue a doctorate. She believes that supporting
students in that way is “the kind of thing we in academia have to do.”
The concept of risk took on a very personal dimension in early 2011.
Just months into her first tenure-track position at Carleton and weeks after
returning from another surfing vacation, she was diagnosed with invasive
breast cancer. Amid the shock and horror of the news was also disbelief that
the only treatment she was offered was a classic mastectomy with recon-
struction to follow later. At just 37 and with all the attention breast cancer
had been receiving, she could not accept that that was her only option.
“It just seemed so barbaric to me that we have been running, walking,
jumping, flying, biking for the cure … and the only thing that these surgeons can tell me is that ‘You’ve gotta cut it off?’ It just didn’t compute to
me,” she says.
Within a couple of weeks she had worked her international contacts
and learned that she was a good candidate for another procedure. A skin-sparing mastectomy removes all but the breast’s skin envelope, and the
breast is rebuilt right then. The challenge was finding someone who could
do it in Canada – fast. Meanwhile, she was finishing the winter term at
Carleton, teaching an online course through Harvard, and consulting for
UNICEF on an evaluation of its development programs in the context of
international human rights law.
The call that she had an appointment with Nicole Hodgson, a surgeon
performing the skin-sparing procedure at Hamilton’s Juravinski Cancer
Centre, came while she was in Senegal in early May for UNICEF. She had
less than two days to make it to the Hamilton clinic.
“Our administrative assistant had to sell her first child to Air France
to get me a seat from Dhakar to Toronto,” she jokes. Before the end of the
month she’d had the operation, revealing that her cancer was advanced.
That required a full suite of follow-up treatments – aggressive chemotherapy
and radiation, with their own side effects and life-altering considerations,
things that Dr. Adrian believes can be too easily glossed over by doctors
intent on saving patients’ lives.
An anthropologist, she talked to other cancer patients and found the
systemic pitfalls she’d dealt with were common, and that “really, really
bothered me.” As a human rights champion, she decided to do something
She sought out senior administrators from the Ottawa Hospital and
started talking to them about why she’d had the experience she’d had and
what could be done to give breast cancer patients equal and hassle-free access to all the information and treatments available. They were receptive,
although the hospital says it was already moving along the same lines. “I
see the change,” she says, crediting those in charge for hiring surgeons
who could offer expanded treatment options. A hospital expansion will
consolidate all its breast cancer specialists and services into one hub.
However, the true shift, she realized, had to happen among patients so