In 2016 I was fortunate to be invited to do a sabbatical at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA – a world-leading centre in treating breast cancer patients and an international leader in both clinical and laboratory research – where I experienced the daily life of a medical oncologist in this prestigious breast cancer unit.
Dana Farber is notionally a private hospital but has a large fundraising department which it is heavily reliant on and one of their major supporters is the Boston Red Sox – I did manage to get to a couple of matches.
The basics were similar to treating patients at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, but the magnitude was tenfold. The clinics ran like clockwork with over 25 clinic rooms with patients lining up to go in to from 7.30 in the morning.
The Medical Oncologists each had their own nurse who was integral in patient care from both a logistical perspective and psychological support for the patient. And as we do at Lifehouse there was a weekly multi-disciplinary meeting to discuss patients.
Although there are 25 medical oncologists treating breast cancer they all had a special research interest with an international reputation in the area. These varied from clinical trials, laboratory research and rehabilitation of breast cancer patients. The majority of the clinicians were trained through Harvard Medical School so it was the cream of the crop.
How did I feel when I returned to Australia after three months? Rested after a break from a routine I’d been doing for twenty years, inspired by the privilege of being involved and exposed to what I personally think is the best breast cancer unit in the world, and invigorated by the ideas and contacts I was able to bring back to Lifehouse.
Although we operate on a smaller scale there’s certainly space to expand the Breast Cancer Unit in terms of treating more patients and being involved in more trials – in particular, those utilising new drugs improving the outcome of women with breast cancer.