I write my initial blog in the wake of the flooding in Alberta. Having grown up in Calgary, this hits close to home as family and friends have been displaced. Fortunately for many, this is a temporary (albeit major) inconvenience; but so many others haven’t been so lucky. It makes me think of my patients and their families, who in the blink of an eye, find their lives forever shaped by cancer.
I am a medical oncologist in Kelowna. My initial career was in nursing and I did a Master’s degree in Science, specifically in health research, before deciding to do medicine at McMaster. I completed my internal medicine and medical oncology residencies in Calgary, but I guess all those years of school weren’t enough! I wanted to learn to write and lead a certain type of clinical trial, so I found great mentorship by Drs Richard Goldberg and Bert O’Neil at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There, I did a two-year fellowship to learn how to develop and run phase I and II clinical trials (the early studies of potential anti-cancer medicines) from experts in the field. This was a life changing experience, reinforcing my choice to combine clinical care with research.
Eventually, it was time to return to Canada and be closer to my family, and I found a great place to continue my career in Kelowna. Why B.C.? It’s hard to find a more beautiful place to live, and I was encouraged by the opportunity to do research in Kelowna and to collaborate with colleagues around the province.
Working in oncology was an easy decision. My grandmother had cancer when I was young and I wanted to understand this disease and her treatments better. I became interested in research during my nursing training when I could see that research could improve the care of patients. For my Master’s degree thesis, I evaluated the quality of life and unmet needs of patients with lung cancer. By then I was hooked.
I love the two aspects of my career: caring for patients and doing research. In the clinic, I see patients with gastrointestinal cancers (including colorectal, stomach, liver and pancreatic cancers), as well as lung and breast cancers. My main areas of interest in research are in gastrointestinal cancers, specifically testing new drugs and improving how patients are monitored after their treatment is over. I find that combining patient care and research “keeps it real.” When questions come up in clinic, I wonder if I can help to understand something better or make an improvement in care. I am motivated to make a difference in my patients’ lives but also to know that for patients in the future, we need to find better treatments and continuously improve care. For our patients and families that are forever shaped by cancer, I want to leave this world a better place.
It’s an honour to be a guest blogger for the month of July. Next week I’ll tell you more about the research I’m doing at the BC Cancer Agency.