How did you end up going into medicine?
My decision to become a doctor was driven largely by values instilled in me by my family and what I saw growing up. The idea of being a part of a profession focused on helping others regardless of circumstance, helping people live with less pain and suffering and engaging them in living healthier and happier lives – I can’t imagine a more fulfilling job. Being a doctor, I would not have predicted the amazing privilege of impacting another person’s life and to care for others in their most vulnerable times.
Advances in the field have led to our ability to cure patients or help patients achieve a long-term remission that previously were unachievable. I am also able to help people navigate through tough decisions throughout their illness trajectory, to advocate for them and, if the time comes, to make those decisions on their behalf. The science of cancer has always fascinated me, but the patients are the main reason I chose this field. Who wouldn’t want a job where the patients inspire you to be a better person, to have a better perspective in life and to live carpe diem? It may sound selfish, but this sustains me, especially at times when the going gets rough.
Who or what has inspired you to pursue this career? Why did you decide to focus on cancer?
Cancer doctors tend to get to their profession in one of three ways. Some are drawn in through their love of cancer science, some are inspired by a great mentor, and others get there by way of their patients. I have always been drawn to children. Their innocence and altruism can definitely fill an ordinary day with wonder and hope. They are so much fun to work with that it does not even feel like work. There is really nothing worse than seeing them suffer and their lives shortened by cancer.
What excites you about your work? What is exciting to you about your field right now?
Pediatric oncology is such a moving target. I am excited about the recent advancements we have that have truly impacted outcome of patients with high-risk disease. There is still a lot of work left, however, with other high-risk cancers, and the challenge of this is exciting. Immunotherapy is revolutionizing the field of oncology. We are able to utilize a patient’s own immune system to treat a variety of malignancies, and this has been groundbreaking. We have also been able to move toward more personalized care as we find molecular markers that can be specifically targeted in individuals’ tumors. It is an extremely exciting time in oncology with the plethora of new drugs being approved with results that would have been incomprehensible just a few years ago.
What do you want to achieve with your work and/or in your career?
Pediatric cancer is a rare disease, comprising 1% of all cancer diagnoses. However, it has been shown that cancer is the No. 1 disease to cause death in children in U.S., with more quality of life and life-years lost than any other form of cancer. In general, there has been an overall incremental survival improvement in cancers due to scientific advancements over the years. However, this is not true for certain pediatric cancers, like osteosarcoma, where survival has not changed in the past four decades. There clearly is a gap here that needs to be bridged. I am passionate about doing my part to bridge this gap so the next generation will have better outcomes. My constant hope is that I get to help children and young adults reach their potential, live their best lives despite cancer and ultimately grow up to tell their stories.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I have a 5-year-old son so when I am not at work, my unwinding comes from fun family time. I strive to keep a healthy family-work balance. It is not easy but I do my best every day. As a family, we love adventure and traveling and experiencing different cultures and foods. Living in Florida, we love to spend time at the beach whenever we can get away.