My family came to Canada with pretty much nothing in the 1960s from Vietnam during the war there. After stints in Edmonton and Kingston, where I was born, the family settled in Ottawa where I grew up.
From an early age I always had an interest in biology, I suspect from spending a childhood roaming freely outdoors. I must admit though, a career in medicine was not a lifelong dream and I only thought about it in undergrad when I found out all my friends were applying – after all, I had better marks then they did, so why not?
It turns out that I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of medicine and I even volunteered to do extra call so I could spend more time in the hospital learning first-hand. I had initially intended on pursuing a career in surgery, including spending time in sub-Saharan Africa working at a missionary hospital in Burundi, and a general surgery rotation in a small community in Northern Ontario. But exposure to some great people in Internal Medicine and Oncology eventually led me to my fellowship training in Vancouver in Medical Oncology starting in 1996.
What attracted me first and foremost to a career in oncology was the interaction with patients and their families. There is no other specialty in medicine, in my opinion, where the doctor-patient relationship can be so meaningful. Being able to help someone navigate one of the most serious issues a person will ever encounter, to help them make the best choices for themselves, and deal with all the consequences, can be very rewarding.
In my sub-specialty training in Vancouver (at the BC Cancer Agency, Vancouver General Hospital and University of British Columbia), I met valuable mentors who shaped my thinking about cancer and opened my mind to research through which I could contribute to the greater good: people like Dr. Jim Goldie, Dr. Nevin Murray, Dr. Karen Gelmon, Dr. Richard Klasa, and particularly Dr. Martin Gleave. For me, it’s this close interaction between these two aspects in oncology, the marriage between care and research built out of necessity and need, which forms the basis of my motivation for my work.
I’ve been on staff at the BC Cancer Agency for almost 15 years now (time flies!), and the thing I value most about the place is the dedication of the staff in doing their best – the secretaries, unit clerks, nurses, physiotherapists, research assistants, volunteers, scientists, doctors. It’s not always perfect, it’s mostly never easy, and every organization has its issues particularly in these times of fiscal restraint, but the team of people I work with to deliver care and do research also helps keeps me inspired.
Next week I will tell you more about translational research at the BC Cancer Agency.