We are all that person.
It may be you, your spouse, child, or other loved one but we all are presently living, surviving, or grieving over cancer.
The 'C' word. It should be added to the list of profanities.
The baggage that surrounds this disease is enough to make most people turn in the other direction but not Dr. Melanie Thomas of the Medical University of South Carolina's (MUSC) Hollings Cancer Center. This fearless woman is armed with a degree from the school of Hard Knocks, the Boston University of Medicine, priceless experience from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and the extreme complexities of clinical trials she pursues that continuously moves the field of Oncology forward.
She is not afraid and ready for battle, merely wanting to "give patients more."
The successes are slow but most cancers are on the decline because of doctors like Thomas. "It's great to see progress," she explains. "Working with cancer patients in clinical trials is very much a service and I realize it's something I can do on a daily basis."
Medicine, after all, is her second career. In her younger adult life she graduated from Boston College with a degree in Biology and then an MS in Engineering from Harvard University. She then worked in the environmental field and the Boston Harbor Cleanup. "I had two children then and decided to follow my heart and study medicine."
At 37, she quickly realized that medical school was designed more for the younger adult. "It was pretty hectic. I would study at different hours to get the work done so that I could be there when my children woke up and went to bed."
Despite the difficulties, her real world experiences benefited her residency. "Medicine is a people business and my maturity was an advantage at this point. My people skills were much more developed for the complicated family situations that arise in hospitals."
At home now in the Lowcountry, Thomas has devoted herself to originating and overseeing clinical trials at the cancer center (MUSC's Hollings Cancer Center) and seeing patients at the East Cooper Medical Arts Center in Mount Pleasant. "Clinical trials allow me to observe and study," she said, "I have designed and completed over 20 clinical trials in my career. I have also opened four new trials for liver cancer patients and oversee all clinical trials at Hollings."
Thomas specializes in Gastrointestinal cancers (stomach, pancreas, and colon) and the three 'orphan tumors' (liver, bile ducts, and gallbladder). These are tumors that many have never heard about because they don't attract much attention and sadly patients diagnosed with these cancers may feel neglected as well.
Little is known despite colon cancer being the third most common cancer in men and women, and liver cancer being the fourth most common cancer worldwide.
Dr. Thomas has made it her mission to read all of the latest literature and continue studying this tough field. "I want to give them more," she declares.
In response, she created a not for profit foundation and website, www.CanLiv.org, to help improve the lives of those affected by hepatobiliary cancers. It is a group of dedicated individuals to provide accurate and comprehensive information.
Thomas wants everyone to remember that "all of the advice you've been given about your health that doesn't seem very interesting is really important." A proper lifestyle of not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight are necessary. "Also, be aware of your family's medical history and communicate this with your primary care physician."
Her advice for young people: "Volunteer to find out what you're interested in and gather real world experiences. Do well in school and love learning because you'll be learning the rest of your life."
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