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Dr. Janessa Laskin: Evolution of an Oncologist

November 7, 2014

Thinking back on how I came to be an oncologist at BC Cancer – Vancouver could appear to be a linear course, but to me it always seemed unpredictable.

After a few formative years in Saskatoon, I grew up in B.C. and finished high school in Vancouver. I then travelled east to the vibrant city of Montreal where I attended McGill University. I completed a BSc in Biology with a Minor in the History and Philosophy of Science. Though I loved biology I never felt really at home in the rest of the sciences and I squeezed as many arts courses into my degree program as possible.

Finishing my BSc, I took two years to work and travel and try to find something to do with my life that would keep me interested. Medicine had always been something I was drawn to, however there are no physicians in my family, only a great number of those other kind of “doctors”, the PhD ones, so I was also drawn to academics. But once I started medical school at UBC I knew it was the right choice. I stayed in Vancouver to complete my residency in internal medicine and then medical oncology. Finally, after nine years of medical training, I left Vancouver to complete a one year clinical research Fellowship at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, with the wonderful doctors Alan Sandler and David Johnson. After a year in the south, I came home to Vancouver and have been on staff at the BC Cancer Agency since 2003.

My decision to go into medical oncology was somewhat serendipitous; early on in medical school I had the opportunity to spend time in the clinic with Dr. Karen Gelmon. Her intelligence, enthusiasm and curiosity about cancer were infectious. From those early days of training I was greatly affected by her ease with her patients and the humour and compassion she brought to every clinic, even on the tough days. Though throughout my residency I was tempted by other subspecialties I kept coming back to oncology. Medical oncology allows me to weave research, teaching and clinical care seamlessly together. I am privileged to help patients and their families at a critical time in their lives and help them find a way forward.

In my next few posts I’ll discuss the sorts of research I am involved in and where I see cancer medicine going in the future. Before all of that though, I do want to say a big, big thank you to all of those who have donated to the BC Cancer Foundation and in particular to those who attended the Inspiration Gala on Nov 1st, a tremendous event and a record-breaking fundraiser for cancer research!