Innovators Network

IN Members Stories


Justine Avery Sands

Innovators Network council member and BRCA1-positive “previvor” Justine Avery Sands says cancer research empowered her to take charge of her health.

A momentous choice
I was 9 when my mother died of breast cancer and 28 when I found out that I carry a mutation in the BRCA1 gene that meant my chances of developing breast cancer at some point in my life were sky high. Two years ago, I elected to have both breasts removed in a surgery known as a prophylactic double mastectomy. Of course I was scared, but I was empowered to make that decision that slashed my risk of breast cancer.

Photo credit: Lisa Loop

Send-off gives back
I’m so lucky that scientists made the discoveries they did that linked the BRCA genes to breast cancer risk. That research allowed me to make the choice that I believe has saved my life. Before my surgery, my friends threw me an amazing “ta ta to the tatas” party to say goodbye to my breasts. It was a great send-off, and my friends even joined together to help the cause. We raised more than $7,000 for cancer research at Fred Hutch and the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research.

Photo credit: Lisa Loop

Cancer research gave me options
Thanks to cancer researchers like those at Fred Hutch, I have the chance to fight back that my mom never got. She must have carried the same mutation I have but she didn’t know it. Even though I feel grateful that I was able to drop my chances of getting breast cancer from 85 percent to less than 5 percent, the surgery and emotional recovery were tough. It was a long time before I felt normal in my own skin again. This is me right after my surgery.

IN common
I was introduced to Innovators Network by a friend after I found out that I carry the BRCA1 mutation. At my first IN happy hour, one of the speakers happened to be talking about genes linked to breast cancer. That really touched me, and I wanted to get involved. My husband, Rob, and I joined IN, and I am also an IN council member, helping to shape the program and reach new young professionals in our community. I love IN because I have so much in common with the other members – most importantly, we’re all working to eliminate cancer.

Amazing research in my own backyard
I joined the IN council because I wanted to give back more than just money. When I learned about the amazing research being done in my own backyard and the patient care that comes out of this work, I knew I wanted to focus my efforts on Fred Hutch. It’s such a unique place and I’m so happy to be part of it.

Past Stories


Andrea Towlerton

Fred Hutch Research Technician and Innovators Network member Andrea Towlerton sees IN making a difference in Fred Hutch’s lifesaving work.

Passion Combines with Compassion
I arrived at Dr. Hootie Warren’s lab at Fred Hutch three years ago and joined Innovators Network almost immediately. People work here because their motivation in life is to help others. Working in this environment is absolutely awesome. Dr. Warren combines passion and compassion: He’s enthusiastic about research but also really understands the sacrifices patients make. It’s truly a gift to wake up each day and know that what you’re doing is helping others. 

Get INvolved
Joining Innovators Network is a great way to get involved in the Fred Hutch community. It’s a fantastic introduction to the amazing research being done right in Seattle at Fred Hutch! As scientists, we need to share our excitement and get people engaged and enthusiastic about where their contributions are going. That’s one reason why I bring my wonderful colleagues to IN happy hours. Fred Hutch provides a haven for scientists with interests ranging from infectious disease to diabetes to bounce ideas off each other. IN helps keep these brilliant minds here.

From Bench to Bedside
I’ve studied everything from bats to nanotechnology, but deep down I always wanted to work on clinical research. Translational medicine is the best of both worlds. Every day in the lab is different. We focus on immunotherapy strategies to target cancer, and my work ranges from the bench top to computational research to making sure the lab runs smoothly. Seeing research taken to the bedside is very rewarding. 

Each Person Makes a Difference
My parents instilled a desire to give back, whatever your resources. I feel it’s important to give back to a place that gives so much to patients. Last year, I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania after raising more than $10,000 through the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer — half of that in small donations of a few dollars each. In total, I’ve been able to contribute around $12,000 to Fred Hutch, and I’m just one person!

IN Helps Turn Research into Therapy
Every therapy starts with research. Philanthropy is only growing more critical to keep research flowing as federal funding diminishes. In our lab, we understand the importance of research and clinical care working together, and gifts from IN members help support our quest to create lifesaving therapies.


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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a world leader in research to prevent, detect and treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.