Be Seen, Get Screened's Physician Spolight series highlights the work of health care professionals on the front line in the fight against colon cancer. Our Colon Cancer Survivor Spotlight series gives a voice to the brave individuals who have battled the disease themselves.
Our latest Q&A features a person who fits into both categories.
Dr. Dustin Deming is a Medical Oncologist at the UW Carbone Cancer Center specializing in colon cancer research. He was also diagnosed with colon cancer in his early thirties. He offers an interesting take on the colon cancer journey from both the oncologist and patient perspectives.
BSGS: What is your personal experience with colorectal cancer?
Dr. Deming: Two years ago, I was in my early 30’s completely healthy as far as I knew and had no family history of cancer. I started to have intermittent bleeding, but thought due to my age that it was likely something benign.
I eventually had a colonoscopy and rectal cancer was found. Ironically, I was diagnosed with rectal cancer 2 weeks after starting a position at the UW Carbone Cancer Center specializing in the treatment of patients with gastrointestinal cancers, including colorectal cancer.
I underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments followed by surgery. Following surgery, I then completed an additional 6 months of adjuvant chemotherapy.
BSGS: Having had cancer yourself, how has your experience impacted your career and your outlook on treating patients?
Dr. Deming: My cancer diagnosis has definitely changed my perspective in many ways. Before I was a cancer patient myself, I did not fully understand the ways in which a diagnosis of cancer affects our patients.
When I saw patients in clinic previously I focused mostly on the diagnosis, stage, and treatments for each patient's cancer. Those things are still important, but I now realize that at least initially the emotional, sleep, family life, and occupational changes that occur after a diagnosis of cancer are at least just as important.
In addition, when you are diagnosed with cancer you learn to appreciate every day and take nothing for granted. This not only applies to my family, but also to my research and time in clinic with patients. Being able to help people by sharing my experiences with cancer is extremely rewarding for me and has been very well-received by my patients.
BSGS: What drew you to a career in medical oncology in the first place?
Dr. Deming: When I entered medical school I thought I wanted to be a pathologist, since I had a background in clinical laboratory science and was interested in the biology of cancer. It was not until I was exposed to the oncology clinic that I realized how rewarding working with patients could be.
I was also able to see how the research I was doing in the lab could be translated to clinical trials that could potentially have significant benefits for patients. My dedication to treating and researching colon cancer arose from the excellent mentorship that I received during my residency and fellowship from the gastrointestinal oncologists here at the Carbone Cancer Center.
BSGS: Tell us a bit more about your research initiatives. What objectives do you have?
Dr. Deming: Through my research, I want to fundamentally change the way that we treat colorectal cancer to a more personalized approach. In the majority of cases, we treat each patient with colorectal cancer very similarly.
We know, however, that colorectal cancer is actually a collection of many different subtypes of cancer with each individualized by the genetic and other molecular changes that occur. My laboratory develops novel mouse models of colorectal cancer that allow us to investigate how some of these key differences in cancers change the tumor biology, including the response to therapies.
The eventual goal is to develop treatment strategies that are best suited for individual subtypes of colorectal cancer.
BSGS: What advice do you have for others who are battling cancer?
Dr. Deming: Try to stay positive. When you are diagnosed with cancer and undergoing anti-cancer therapies it is easy to get down and depressed.
It is important to realize that no matter what situation we are in, there are reasons to be hopeful. A positive attitude and hope for a successful treatment, despite the odds, helped me through my therapies.
In addition, my continued hope for better treatments and improving the quality of life of patients with cancer fuels our work in my laboratory and in the clinic.
BSGS: What do you say to people who are hesitant to get screened?
Dr. Deming: Colon cancer is largely a preventable disease if adequate screening is performed. We now have different options for screening, so please find one that you are willing to do.
Colon cancer screening saves lives. There is no reason to delay as the earlier polyps or cancers are found the easier they are to treat.
Image Source: John Maniaci, UW Hospital and Clinics