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The first few months since joining the BC Cancer Agency have flown by. I am enjoying my new role—every day is different and presents new challenges. I have travelled to all six of our centres and meeting so many of our staff, who are passionate about making the system better, has been the most inspiring part of my job.

I also spend a fair amount of time working with the BC Cancer Foundation to support their critical role in raising funds for the BC Cancer Agency.

I’ve been asked a few times what my biggest learnings have been in the new role. It’s an interesting question. The first would be how complex the health system is for any individual patient. It is only by focusing on patient-centred care that we can truly start to sensibly integrate all of our services around the patient.

The second would be that cancer care is truly a partnership between BC Cancer Agency, primary care and the regional health authorities, and that to provide an effective cancer care and control program in BC all of us need to work effectively together.

I have also learned a lot about the unique challenges involved in providing cancer services for our aboriginal Canadians who are often in geographically remote locations. Taking the cultural sensitivity training, which I would recommend for all BC Cancer Agency staff, was a very meaningful experience.

I have returned to clinical practice working in the Gastrointestinal site group at Vancouver Centre one day a week. Much of my previous work at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre was in pancreatic cancer, which is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in Canada, and by 2025 will be the second leading cause of death. Current research focuses on understanding the genetic diversity of pancreatic cancer and ‘personalizing’ therapy based on these changes as well as examining how we can harness the immune system to fight this disease.

We are fortunate in B.C. to have Pancreas Centre BC, a world class pancreatic cancer research program, jointly led by Dr. Dan Renouf and Dr. David Schaeffer.

One of the biggest challenges facing the cancer system is sustainability. The number of cancer cases will increase from 25,000 to 35,000 in the next decade. Every year we can do more for patients with cancer, but all these new innovations come with a high price. The cancer drug budget has been growing at 10% a year and there are some very promising and very expensive new drugs on the horizon.

How we can continue to provide the best care to all patients in BC in a publicly funded system is something we will have to address and will require us to change what we do and how we do it.