Raise Up Extraordinary Women: Justine Maller

Justine Maller

This daily #OneGoodThing was dedicated to celebrating extraordinary women I know last December. Many of the 31 bold, beautiful, brave women featured shared stories of perseverance after abuse, addiction, miscarriages, illness, and loss. They represent various fields and backgrounds, and I admire each for their passion and strength. The series was so deeply inspiring that I felt it needed to live on as a weekly feature in 2020. Each Monday, I’ll introduce you to another incredible superhero—including artists, businesswomen, union organizers, nurses, writers, teachers, movie makers, designers, reporters, and all-around badasses. It’s about finding the extraordinary in each of us!

Justine and her husband

Justine Maller grew up in Santa Cruz, Calif. As the daughter of two English teachers, her biggest act of rebellion became a commitment to a career in science. She studied Molecular & Cell Biology and minored in Rhetoric at UC Berkeley — GO BEARS! — and then worked for 2 years as a research associate and lab manager in a neuro-oncology lab at UCLA, where she studied abnormal DNA patterns of tumors from glioblastoma patients. It was here where she first discovered her passion for translational medicine, and two years later she found herself in an MD-PhD program at the University of Colorado. Justine’s thesis work focused on a protein implicated in leukemia, and she successfully defended her Ph.D. in 2012. Justine loved living in Denver and made lifelong friends during her time there, and was also lucky enough to complete a yoga teacher training series that greatly enriched her own practice and instilled her with more confidence in her public-speaking skills. She also met her future husband, Ori — a Ph.D. student in the CU Cancer Biology program — while they were part of the same team for a fundraising event to fight cancer. After finishing the last couple of years of medical school in Colorado, Justine was thrilled to move back to California and went on to complete a residency in pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland. She is now (finally) in her last year of training and completing a fellowship in Pediatric Rheumatology at Stanford. As a physician-scientist, Justine is dedicated to making medical progress for people with chronic diseases. She is passionate about translating preclinical discoveries into meaningful healthcare advances through innovative, patient-centric research and greatly enjoys caring for kids and young adults with a variety of conditions caused by abnormal immune function, including juvenile arthritis and lupus.

In her free time, Justine enjoys all things delicious — cheese and wine are her favorite — as well as live music and traveling to warm places, especially when she can share these experiences with her loved ones.

1. What did you want to be “when you grew up?”  When I was very young, I wanted to be just like my mom and become an English teacher. In high school when I discovered how much I liked science, my aspirations shifted toward wanting to become a doctor.

2. What makes you the most proud of yourself?  My ability to find the good in things, people, experiences, even if it takes longer than expected.

3. What darkness have you overcome? How did you find strength?  Since beginning my clinical training in 2012, I have experienced several periods of pretty severe depression that has manifested itself in a variety of ways, some of which have been harder to recognize (and thus effectively manage) than others. Keeping a journal has been helpful at times, but not always. I have been fortunate enough to have had some really amazing friends to support me throughout this journey, though, and I am forever grateful to them. My husband has also been an incredible source of support and someone with whom I’ve been able to be completely honest and have very open, sometimes raw, discussions about this.

In residency, I struggled a lot, largely due to my proximity to so many kids with terminal and chronic illnesses. There was a lot of moral injury that came with feeling so ineffective in their overall well-being, and my declining ability to feel present enough for all the patients I was seeing while having no time to take care of myself or my family at all. While the psych support I desperately needed during those times was pretty bare-bones, I have been lucky to have found some amazing resources in my position at Stanford over the last few years, including a psychiatrist with expertise in cognitive behavioral therapy, which has helped me work through so much at the source of my depressive episodes. I have also started to reclaim control over my own time and, in doing so, finally started taking better care of myself too — and it feels so good!

4. Where will we find you on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m.?  Most likely in bed trying to keep my husband in it for a few more minutes so we can cuddle while telling him how much I want a dog (we can’t get one currently because of our rental rules). Maybe about once a month I’ll be up and getting ready to meet a friend for brunch by this time, but I try to savor the weekends when I don’t have to work because there used to be so few!

5. What makes you smile the most?  Cuddly dogs, seeing others happy, thinking about the times when I’ve felt that spark of pure joy.

Bonus: What advice would you give your younger self?  Better to ask for forgiveness than beg for permission. Don’t let fear of others’ judgment keep you from enjoying the learning process.

Today’s #OneGoodThing is sharing this extraordinary woman and my friend from high school, Justine Maller, with all of you! We are stronger together, so let’s shine a light on our extraordinary sisters! If you’d like to participate or nominate a woman to participate, please send me a note or leave a comment! What was your #OneGoodThing today? Please share in the comments! Kindness is Everything.

Day 69 of 366. And Day 1,530 in a row (here’s the first 366, & the following 365, & the third year of 365 good things, & the 4th year of good things)!

On this day…

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