What are your current research interests? What is a project you are currently working on?
I am the director for our Pediatric Cancer Survivorship Program, which provides ongoing care for all survivors of pediatric cancers, as defined as those who have completed their treatment for two years or more. Currently, when a child is diagnosed with cancer, the overall long-term (more than five years) survival is approximately 85 percent. In 2010, the estimated number of pediatric cancer survivors in the United States was 380,000.
Survivorship comes with a cost, which we have learned all too well. That cost includes:
- Disfiguring surgeries
- Poor growth and development
- Early heart disease and other injuries to the major organs
- Increased rates of learning and cognitive disabilities
- Second malignant neoplasms
- Reproductive challenges
- Decreased education and work obtainment
We follow survivors so that we can be aware of what these challenges are and use this knowledge to develop treatments that are much less likely to cause them in the future. My coordinator, Ann Robinson, and I review the specific therapies that these survivors previously received and develop an individualized plan that determines what late effects a survivor is at risk for and the best way to monitor and detect that risk. The goal is to work with the survivor so they know how to take care of themselves and maintain good health for the remainder of their life. And, in turn, they can fulfil their goals and achieve everything that they are destined to achieve.
In addition, I have worked within the International Guidelines Harmonization Group (IGHG) to develop a uniform set of recommendations for guidelines among many medical groups and societies. Recently, we published recommendations for the surveillance of pediatric cancer survivors who are at risk for differentiated thyroid carcinomas (DTC).
Currently, I am interested in evaluating the impact of the use of proton beam radiation on the risk of DTC and other radiation sensitive tissues (such as breast tissue). I would also like to explore the rates of iron overload and its impact on the long-term health of organs in pediatric cancer survivors, which is most often caused by need for PRBC transfusions during treatment.
How did you end up going into medicine?
Growing up, my mother most frequently told me that I should be a mailman because it wasn’t too hard, and it would get me home to my family at night. I had my own ideas to do more and to help others in ways that few other people could. I did not feel that hard work or sacrifice should be obstacles to what I should do. I have seen first-hand how my parents and the many men and women of our country had sacrificed to get me to where I am. I felt that as a Vietnamese refugee after the Vietnam War, my family and I owe so much to the men and women of this country. Their sacrifice allowed us the opportunity to come to the U.S. and to have the good life that we wouldn’t have otherwise had. Going into medicine was my answer to this calling. I want anybody who ever had to sacrifice in their lives to know that their sacrifice is not in vain, and, whether they realize it or not, it means something. I know that each day I return to the families of these patients and our community the most precious gift.
What do you want to achieve with your work and/or in your career?
I like to define success in my career as one patient and one family at a time. Perhaps during one visit, I might explain a diagnosis in a way that is easier for a family to understand. At another visit, I might be able to deliver news that someone is in remission. During another interaction, I might learn that a child made the honor roll or got 100 percent on their spelling test. It’s one step, one day at a time.
What excites you about your work?
Working in pediatric cancer, I have seen how the collective effort of everyone (physicians, nurses, social work, physical therapist, psychologist, child life, volunteers etc.) have touched the lives of these children. It inspires and excites me to come to work with all these great people, knowing that today might be the day that one of our survivors tells me he or she is graduating, he or she is getting a scholarship, he or she is getting married, or he or she is going to have a baby and will start a family. I can’t help but be proud when one of them tells me because of me and my team, they want to be a doctor, or a nurse, or a physical therapist or a social worker. Or even more simply, that they have hope, because they can see past tomorrow, they want to be a better person or they want to do something to help another person.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I have a wife and three sons. I love to spend time with them. I am currently active with Cub Scout Pack 416, and I lead the Den for my youngest sons. In Cub Scouts, we like to explore and get outdoors. I help them understand how we relate to the natural world around us, and it is our responsibility to take care of it. We like to go camping and to volunteer our time to serve our community.