I was the life guard at a camp for children with cancer, called Sky High Hope Camp. At camp I met a little girl named Jenny. Jenny had just had an amputation. As a young surgery resident, learning about limb-salvage surgical procedures, I wondered why Jenny’s leg had to be amputated. That’s when I discovered there weren’t any limb-salvage options for children, because children are still growing. That little girl inspired me to be part of the global battle against cancer.
The over-arching goal of my research is limb preservation. I run the musculoskeletal oncology laboratory, which is focused on reconstructing bone to save the legs of dogs and children. We explore ways to enhance bone healing in cancer patients who are undergoing anticancer therapy. We look at everything from gene therapy to get cells to make bone where they normally wouldn’t, to different kinds of endoprosthetics to help reconstruct large bone defects.
Translational research means that the advancements we make in our animal patients apply to humans, and vice versa. It’s all one medicine. We all have laboratories working in the same field of cancer. Daily I perform surgery on animals who have cancer. I love helping and healing animals. But the fact that my work makes a difference for kids with cancer is really why I stay in academics. The reason academicians live, eat, and breathe is to share information and discoveries for all to use. Whether it’s a dog or a horse or a person, it’s the same the biology of cancer. From the level of the cancer cell, it’s one medicine.
The CSU Flint Animal Cancer Center is an incredible place to work. We have the best people, and the brightest, most committed leaders. And not just in the Flint Animal Cancer Center. We couldn’t practice this kind of high quality cancer medicine without the anesthesia staff, the critical care unit and the hospital support staff of the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Here, patients get the kind of care they couldn’t get anywhere else. Our combined mission is to use the most modern and cutting-edge information we have, and to give our patients our very best effort.
Back when I was in vet school, I started a pet visitation program with the Ronald McDonald House, where families of hospitalized and chronically ill kids stay while they undergo treatment. It touched my heart to see how kids with chronic illness interact with the animals. Seeing the kids and their families taught me that life really is all about relationships. And that’s true about animal / human relationships, as well as relationships between people. That experience helped shape my career and became part of who I am.
If I was working in isolation, I don’t think I’d have the emotional fortitude to keep going. A vital part of being part of the team at the Flint Animal Cancer Center is the camaraderie with others who are part of the same fight every day. It’s very important to work with a group of people who understand, and who all have the same commitment to the fight. The group of people I work with are incredibly resilient and committed. They continually inspire me to reach higher.