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Profiles of campus people in the news—Mrs. Jacqueline Hwang Peng,
A Model for Women Scientists in Taiwan

The highlights of this current issue will report on Mrs. Jacqueline Hwang Peng, who just earned her honorary doctoral degree from National Taiwan University. Mrs. Hwang Peng dedicated her entire career to cancer genetics and medical oncology research, and was the first person to prove that cancer was caused by the defects and damages in a person's chromosomes. As a pioneer in the research of the mutation of cancer cells, her contribution to medicine was prominent and internationally renowned.

In 1993, Mrs. Hwang Peng, then 63 years old, after she was elected academician of Academia Sinica, decided to say farewell to her husband and four children, and return to Taiwan by herself. At that time, she thought that being elected academician of Academia Sinica represented not only a confirmation of one's professional capabilities, it also signified one's responsibility toward society. Before returning to Taiwan to see patients, she specialized in cancer genetics, and was a senior physician at the Cancer Center of the U.S. National Institute of Health. What incited her to come back was not only because she was elected to the highest honor possible—Academician of Academia Sinica, but also the "poor patients in Taiwan." Always smiling, she recalls how the "haves" of Taiwanese patients used to hop on a plane and flew to the United States to seek her help, while the "have nots" could only sit in Taiwan and rot. She felt then and there that the Taiwanese patients shouldn't have to go abroad to seek world-class care. Furthermore, in the United States cases of liver cancer and nasopharyngeal carcinoma were few, she felt that the common cancer cases popular in Taiwan should be treated locally. Her long term commitment to research and prevention of cancer diseases in Taiwan was so prominent to the extent that a research fellow at the National Institute of Health by the name of Cheng-Wen Wu praised her as "The Mother of Cancer in Taiwan." In order to reciprocate society and to enhance the standard of cancer treatment in Taiwan, Mrs. Jacqueline Hwang Peng conducted the first training courses in oncology for the physicians in Taiwan.

After she returned to Taiwan Mrs. Jacqueline Hwang Peng served as the Director of the Clinical Research Center of the Bio-medical Institute of Academia Sinica, then she took over as the Director of the Division of Cancer Research of the National Institute of Health, and served as its first Managing Director.  Furthermore, she mobilized civilian forces and established the "Taiwan Cancer Foundation", which was dedicated to cancer prevention.  She often flew between the coasts of the Pacific, inviting American medical experts to come to Taiwan to participate in the training of cancer physicians.  Over 8 years she has trained over 35 internal physicians and surgeons.  Moreover, she integrated the resources from 9 large scale medical centers which included the National Taiwan University Hospital, the Chang-Gung Memorial Hospital, and the Veteran's General Hospital and organized the "Taiwan Cancer Treatment Group" (TCOG), which was to deal with cancer specifically.

In1949, China was in political turmoil, Mrs. Jacqueline Whang Peng, then 16 years old, was on board of a ship with her brothers, sisters, and mother for two full days from Shanghai to Taiwan. The minute she stepped on board, she was severely seasick, and she vomited for two days and two nights until she spilled all her guts out.  When the ship arrived at Keelung and her feet touched the soil, however, she immediately recuperated.  Her father handed her a piece of banana right there and ‘then.  "That banana was so fragrant, so large and so sweet!" she says.  She remembers the taste of that piece of banana for the rest of her life.

In 1960, Mrs. Jacqueline Hwang Peng graduated from the Department of Medicine of National Taiwan University and became the first female surgeon of Taiwan.  After one year internship as a surgeon, she became the first female surgeon to study in the United States.  When she was doing research in America, she proved that cancer cells was caused by the changes in a person's chromosomes. In 1968 she received the "Ten Outstanding Female Youth Award" from the Republic of China, and in 1972 she received the Arthur Flemming Award from the United States government..  In the same year she was elected academician of Academia Sinica.

In 2008, because of her pioneering research in the chromosomes of tumor cells, and her outstanding contribution to cancer treatment in Taiwan, Mrs. Jacqueline Whang Peng received the first "Outstanding women in science" Award.  After which she went to Paris in June, to participate in the "Outstanding women in science" award presentation ceremony which was co-sponsored by UNESCO and the largest cosmetic company in the world—L'Oreal and was hailed as the Nobel Prize for woman scientists where she had a chance to meet with five women scientists from five different continents and exchange ideas.

As Taiwan was not a member of United Nations, since the Award was established in 1998, Mrs. Jacqueline Whang Peng never had a chance to participate in the Asian competition.  Starting from this year L'Oreal established Taiwan's own "Outstanding Women in Science" Award to make up for the deficiency of many years, but, due to political reasons, Mrs. Jacqueline Hwang Peng could not go to Paris to participate in the global award presentation ceremony held in March of this year, yet her achievements had drawn the attention from the international medical community.

Mrs. Jacqueline Whang Peng is now over 70 years old, but she still maintains a standard weight of only 50 kilograms,.  She wears no make-up, but her skin is still very tender and smooth.  We asked her how did he manage to keep her health?  Exposing the typical light smile of a Su-zhou beauty, she says:  "I do not have any particular way to stay healthy.  So far I do not have high blood pressure, nor do I have diabetes.  This is all attributable to the good genes that run in the family, I guess."  She loved tap-dancing when she was young, and she was always very energetic. Later on, for sake of her husband, she gave up dancing.  Now she does not exercise deliberately, but she likes to walk whenever she has a chance.  She still carries a super-large LV bag with her, which contains all kinds of reports and research materials.  With her tongue in cheek she says that by carrying a large sized bag she can exercise her hand and leg muscles, to the extent that up to now she does not suffer from osteoporosis.

In response to the reportage that there are pesticide residues in vegetables and all kinds of additives in meat, Mrs. Jacqueline Whang Peng says: "Do not be overly nervous.  So long as the foods are processed clean, you don't have be afraid of anything."  She specifically mentioned that "Rice must be washed clean" .  Because many brands of rice use chemical compounds to prevent it from being moth-eaten, those white powders may conduce to stomach cancer over a long period of time.  So rice should be washed at least 8 or 9 times before it is boiled.  She says, being nervous does not conduce to illness directly, but being nervous may cause gastrointestinal discomfort , and introduce bad sleep at night, so immunity from disease drops accordingly.

Addicted to drinking black coffee from her young age, Mrs. Jacqueline Whang Peng now drinks at least three to four cups of light coffee every day.  Although that there are reports claiming that drinking coffee may conduce to liver cancer or bladder cancer, she says: " All these reports remain unverified, do be afraid!"  Furthermore, drinking coffee may prevent Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease !  As long as drinking coffee does not interfere with your sleep, it doesn't hurt to drink a little.  In addition, she takes a multi-vitamin every day, sleeps at around 11 or 12 p.m. wakes up around 6 or 7 a.m.  She does not take a noon nap, but on weekends she may sleep the whole morning.

Mrs. Jacqueline Whang Peng uses her own experience to encourage the young generation of woman scientists.  She says, " Time and environments are changing.  What you are doing now may not necessarily be what you will be doing in the future."  She says, she decided to become a doctor because her own brother died of asthma, and she was the first surgical intern of National Taiwan University.  As to why she switched from being a surgical doctor to doing cancer research, she says, when she was first working in the United States, the Hospital refused to hire her because she was getting married.  So she switched course and converted to the genetic chromosome research of tumor cells.

Once a student asked her, "What are the elements of success?"  Mrs. Jacqueline Whang Peng answered, the elements of success are wisdom, patience, support and luck.  She thanked the support of her family and many others , so that she could concentrate on cancer research worry-free.  Mrs. Jacqueline Whang Peng encourages her underclass women to engage in cancer research in the future.  She said, science is a "cerebral" job, where women get to compete with men in terms of their brain power.  So for women science is a very good job.

With regard to the role of a female scientific researcher, Mrs. Jacqueline Whang Peng maintains that, " a female scientific researcher cannot request anything simply because she is female, she needs to do her research well."  She says,  A female scientist needs to take care of her family and her job at the same time, and it is really quite tough on her.  But, if she could gain the understanding and support of her family and devote herself to research, then she can have outstanding performance in medicine and other fields.  She thinks that a woman scientist may need more luck than a male scientist, but that woman scientist must execute herself well, relying on her own strength to gain success.  She thinks that the conditions for women scientists in Taiwan are much better than those when she first came back.  She does not deny that a woman scientist needs to play the role of a wife and a mother in addition to being a researcher, and that is usually tough on her.  When a woman decides to engage in scientific research, she should pay attention to choose the right better half, "he should be considerate, and be able to take care of places which you neglect."  She says.

Having walked over half a century on the road to science, and finally occupying a prominent position in scientific circles where the male gender dominates, Mrs. Jacqueline Whang Peng has a different view regarding female scientists.  She encourages the young generation of females that , no matter what profession you're in , as long as that profession contributes yourself to our nation and society, that is the spirit of science.  After hardships, the outcomes are more sweet, conquering challenges, life will be more gratifying.  This is her understanding, which is wisdom that can be universally tested.

Note: Part of the contents of this article is quoted from NTU's Center for Condensed Matter Science Professor Dr. Jauyn Grace Lin's paper which was published in Volume 12 of "Taiwan Women Scientists" electronic bulletin

Chinese version