Instead of doing my usual blog post this week, I thought I’d change things up by answering some reader questions that have come through Melanoma Iowa (Facebook), Sarcoma Iowa (Facebook), @MelanomaIowa, @SarcomaIowa and my LinkedIn page. A new page will be added to my blog called “Readers Asked” that will include your questions and my answers. Here’s the first of many more “Readers Asked” blog posts.
How did you become interested in treating cancers, specifically melanoma and sarcoma? Why the focus on these two cancers?
I decided to be a doctor at the age of 12. It was a personal experience for me that started after I had gotten stitches from falling down. During my medical schooling I was inspired by hematology the study of blood disorders and became fascinated with the cellular make up of this viscous substance. My curiosity of blood drove me to a career in cancer. During my 3-years of lab work I was asked to do sarcoma as it was the clinic that people feared. It opened my eyes to a whole new world that I found mirrored what I was seeing in the laboratory. Blood and sarcomas came from the same stem cell: mesenchymal stem cells. I would say sarcoma became more attractive as it encompassed such a variety of different types (150+ subtypes).
Why melanoma? The science behind it is riveting, it is smart and relentless; it grew on me and has made me very motivated to “figure it out”.
How do you have the energy to keep up with the emotions and science that an oncologist has to endure?
I think I am very passionate about what I see in cancer and its abilities scientifically. It’s the first cell to cheat death. The science is maddening and absolutely beautiful. My patients make me “bounce” and because of that I have grown more compassionate and it helps me endure.
Have you ever wanted to give up your job and find a more peaceful life without the stress of being a doctor that deals with cancer and all of the terrible outcomes that come with it?
Absolutely. Many times. My wife would say I am “attention-seeking” when I tell her I wish I was a garbage man, I really do. It’s a noble job that helps humanity clean up its mess but a shower fixes everything at the end of the day and I do not carry so much in my heart. What has transpired is I have discovered that because of what I know now I have a responsibility to help those around me, it is hard for me to turn my back on all the knowledge I have acquired and my ability to deliver excellent care.
How do you find work-life balance? What’s a day in your life?
Ah yes, this one perhaps I will blog about – thanks for asking this. Not easy. I do thank my wife for being ground zero to come home to. It’s why perhaps I married a psychiatrist.
Can you give any ideas or suggestions on how the families of those with Melanoma can help support and say the right things to their loved ones fighting this disease?
I have learned that the best ideas come from you. Those in the battle, if only doctors would take the time to listen to their patients’ struggles. You are in the best position to offer the advice for other families who can learn from what your own experience has taught you. I often connect patients together to let them talk to each other. I really do not know what chemotherapy feels like or what a side-effect is. I counsel then connect. Tell me of your experience; it likely was the right one for the person you helped in their battle against this disease.
Do you have something you want to ask me? Email my assistant at firstname.lastname@example.org with your question and I’ll add it to my next “Readers Asked” blog post.