Job Title: Speech language pathologist, PhD candidate
Why She’s Top 40: She’s raising awareness of problems suffered by patients after throat and neck surgery.
Unexpected Hobby: “I recently took up sugar swing dancing. I really enjoy big band music.”
Imagine not being able to eat a plate of food or being able to talk. Those are sobering side effects many cancer patients face after surgery. Also imagine the social stigma that those same patients face, which Gabriela Constantinescu hears about far too frequently in her line of work.
“I think a lot of their battles have to do with the way the rest of us judge them,” says Constantinescu, currently on leave from her job as a speech pathologist to work on her doctorate thesis on the development of a mobile health device for home-swallowing therapy. “I’ve had patients tell me that they were accused of being drunk and being denied services, or using drugs when they were just being fed through their feeding tubes.”
Constantinescu takes advantage of every opportunity to advocate and raise awareness of what cancer patients go through once they’re out of their surgeries. She lectured on the subject at the University of Alberta’s Three Minute Thesis graduate students competition and landed a spot in the finals earlier this year.
“We know that if we could tackle swallowing and speech impairment even before it happens, we stand a really good chance for improving the quality of life for our patients,” she says. “If we could do that for everyone, that would be incredible and we wouldn’t even need to deal with the social stigmas. In the meantime, if we can address access to care and rehabilitation, that would be my dream.”
She’s also spoken at the university’s Falling Walls Lab (a TED-talk like speaking competition that’s held in post-secondary institutions in 28 countries), as well as at events held by the Cancer Research Institute of Northern Alberta.
“If I can make their lives easier by raising awareness,” she says, “speaking about it is one thing I’d have to do.”