Associate Professor Kylie Mason knows just how her patients feel.

She was just 15 when a leukaemia diagnosis changed the course of her life. An active and determined teenager, Kylie continued to study throughout the two and a half years of her illness, until at 17 she was finally given the all clear.

That same year, she was accepted to study Medicine at the University of Melbourne.

Kylie graduated as a doctor and went on to specialise in the very disease that affected her as an adolescent. She was determined to make a difference in the lives of patients who, like her, faced a life-changing cancer diagnosis.

Kylie went on to complete a Ph.D. at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research focusing on developing new drugs for leukaemia and lymphoma.

After more than 18 years of study and specialist training, Kylie began work as a haematologist with the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, where she carries out clinical research and also treats patients with leukaemia and other blood disorders.

But in 2009 Kylie faced another setback – she was diagnosed with a brain tumour, a result of the intense treatment she received as a teen. The tumour was successfully removed, but Kylie’s health continues to be monitored by doctors at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

Despite access to the latest medical advances, patients like Kylie are often afflicted with chronic medical issues as a side effect of their treatment. That’s why she’s striving to develop not only more cures for cancer, but also a better cure – one that results in fewer side effects from both the disease and its treatment.

Kylie says the thing that motivates her is her desire to make a difference – both in terms of the successful treatment of blood cancer and blood disease, and also in her one-to-one interactions with patients.

She recalls the people that had the greatest impact during her time as a cancer patient were those who made just a little extra time for her – from the doctor who seemed to know when she was having a rough day, to the nurse who sat by her bed as she lay awake in the night.

It’s this principle she brings to her own work with patients, knowing first-hand the difference that one extra moment can make.

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Illustrated by Alice Lindstrom