“While patients with pediatric low-grade gliomas do have a high chance of survival, people don’t recognize how devastating this diagnosis is on children and their families.”
Everyone’s experience with pLGG is unique and will vary from individual to individual.
Pediatric Neuro-Oncologist at Day One
Why I Chose Pediatric Oncology
Ever since I was a kid, I always knew I wanted to be in medicine. My grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and this impacted me tremendously, and I became interested in studying the brain. Before my junior year of high school, my mom moved the family from Toronto, Canada, to San Diego, where I went to college at the University of California. I continued my education at the Medical College of Virginia and realized I wanted to take care of children. Whenever there was a child who was sick, that’s who I wanted to take care of. I gravitated toward the whole-person care approach to promote a child’s wellbeing by observing, discussing, and addressing all dimensions of the child’s health. I knew I wanted to go into a subspecialty of pediatrics, and in my first medical school rotation, I worked with a pediatric oncologist. There, I saw first-hand how you become the patient’s pediatrician and get to treat all of the medical issues for a child with cancer.
Still, I never lost my interest in neurology, and eventually, I found my niche in pediatric brain tumors. I pursued an additional fellowship in pediatric oncology and pediatric neuro-oncology. During that time I met and trained with Dr Mark Kieran, a world-renowned pediatric neuro-oncologist, and really found my calling. As a fellow in this program, I also met Dr Sam Blackman, who was in the first year of his fellowship and who, several years later, cofounded Day One Biopharmaceuticals.
I realized pediatric neuro-oncology was viewed as scary by other medical providers because many people are nervous about brain tumors. But it also requires close relationships with the children and their families and a careful and strategic approach to managing, monitoring, and treating the tumor and its symptoms, which is what I enjoy and appreciate.
My first stop as a full-time doctor after my fellowship was to establish a pediatric brain tumor program. After this program was up and running, I was ready to go back to and specialize in pediatric neuro-oncology at a larger center. It was a fateful day that ultimately brought me back to my first institute as a full-time pediatric neuro-oncologist, 4 years after my fellowship. A former colleague, Dr Mark Kieran, called to let me know about the prospect of a full-time pediatric neuro-oncologist role opening there, which felt like a dream job: getting a chance to specialize again in pediatric neuro-oncology.
Why I’m Proud to Be a Neuro-Oncologist
When I tell people I’m a pediatric neuro-oncologist, they also often sigh with a sense of sympathy. The thought of kids with cancer is a heartbreaking one, and can be misunderstood, but the survival rate in pediatric oncology is constantly improving. While patients with pediatric low-grade gliomas do have a high chance of survival, people don’t recognize how devastating this diagnosis is on children and their families. It’s much different from other cancers, as a child with low-grade glioma can live with the tumor for a decade or more.
It’s hard to wrap your head around that concept. The child is living with that tumor every day. The family is living around the uncertainty of each MRI scan. Because we know that patients with low-grade gliomas have a high survival rate, we treat them as survivors, from the day of diagnosis. Patients with pediatric low-grade gliomas can survive and thrive. Treating physicians must be cognizant of how to care for these patients to keep them at their best over the long term and minimize the toxicity of treatment.
Impact of Day One
Now at Day One Biopharmaceuticals, I am reunited with former coworkers Sam Blackman, Mark Kieran, and Dr. Elly Barry, with whom I did my residency. My years as a pediatric neuro-oncologist were rewarding and fulfilling; I was able to directly care for and impact the lives of children with cancer. At Day One, I hope to make an even greater impact by developing new therapies for children, adolescents, and adults with cancer that can help change the outlook for these families.