Two years ago, at 38, Darlene Nipper was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Though "scared to death," she said, she quickly learned to "let go of the notion you're going to die and just keep moving, literally and figuratively," to make decisions about her care.

Following a lumpectomy, seven weeks of radiation and 24 rough weeks of chemotherapy, she joined a National Cancer Institute clinical trial of Herceptin, a bioengineered drug that binds to a growth-regulating protein overproduced by some cancer cells. After those who were given the drug -- Nipper among them -- saw a lower rate of disease recurrence, Herceptin was approved for use in other patients.

"The risk that I took was that I didn't know if I would receive this medication or not, since the trial was a random-assignment trial," said Nipper, who lives in the District. "Also, none of us knew if the drug would work." But Nipper went ahead, having decided "to give back to my community by getting a black woman's data into the trial."

She finished treatment in December and is looking ahead to the future. "When I was sick and angry I hated people talking about cancer as a gift," she said. But, she admitted, "I've been changed. You get a deeper appreciation for suffering you're aware of around you. It makes me want to be gentle with people."

-- Carol Guzy