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Ted Baker

How Cancer Decided My Life’s Work

As an 11-year-old leukemia patient I had questions, lots of questions

I like to think that my journey to Charles River began in the summer of 2006, when I was just 11. Around June of that year, I came down with debilitating back pain, which seemed impossible to diagnose. After three months of constant confusion an orthopedic specialist ordered blood samples, which led to a diagnosis of acute lymphocytic leukemia. It was more than a bit jarring to learn that the nagging back pain was really cancer, but I was so tired of all of the discomfort that I was strangely relieved to finally know the cause of it.

As if the cancer wasn’t bad enough, during my treatment I also contracted sepsis, a severe GITed Baker, cancer survivor and research tech at Charles River tear, and a fungal infection in my lungs which needed to be treated with bilateral lung surgery. That I was overwhelmed was an understatement, yet I also found myself believing in the medicine. And because it was hard for me to comprehend what was going on, I started asking questions. I became notorious on the pediatric oncology ward as the patient who was always consulting the doctors and nurses about possible side effects from the drugs, why my body was reacting the way it was, what the next steps were in my treatment.

This is the first time I can remember being interested in the medical process, and the science behind it all. I find myself incredibly thankful that not only was my oncologist one of the kindest people I ever met (I can admit bias here, he did contribute heavily to saving my life), but was an incredibly generous teacher. He would come by my room after rounds were completed just to help put into context what the next treatment would be, or why we were seeking a new medication. Treatment continued into high school for me and continued to feed my interest in science and medicine.

Ted Baker, childhood cancer survivor and research technician. Diary of his illness
A diary my mom kept during my illness.

In 2016, I moved to Reno after being accepted to the University of Nevada. I spent the first couple years living in northern Nevada and working retail as I trucked through school. Then I found out my roommate was working for Charles River Labs in Reno, in the formulations department. I had heard him talk multiple times about what he did, but it wasn’t until I delved deeper that I knew I had to try it, too.

On Dec. 9 of 2019, I had my first day of work in the Technical Operations department in Reno. Since them, my passion for preclinical research has only deepened. I am tremendously proud of the work that I have been able to contribute to in my comparatively short time here.

And I am mindful what sparked it. My history with cancer allowed me to have a deeper appreciation of the medical process before treatment, and it only felt right to make this the start of my being able to give back to the biomedical research field.

Cancer changed my life. Since my diagnosis and recovery, all I ever wanted to do was to be able to give back, in some capacity, the generosity and care given to me. I believe I have started this journey at Charles River.

Ted Baker is a research technician at Charles River’s Safety Assessment site in Reno.