Carroll Hospital is welcoming a new physician on staff this October. Dr. Darlene Gabeau has joined the teams as the radiation oncology at the William E. Kahlert Regional Cancer Center, a position she said she was drawn to because in both culture and practice, it exemplifies all she loves best in the practice of medicine.
Gabeau is both a physician certified by the American Board of Radiology and a neuroscientist, earning both her M.D. and doctorate from Yale. After conducting research and publishing as a scientist, she began to realize her true calling was as a clinician.
Gabeau was most recently the director of cancer services for South County Health System in Wakefield, Rhode Island, and prior to that, was on the faculty of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
The Times recently caught up with Gabeau to learn what she loves about practicing radiation oncology, what patients needs to know when they receive a cancer diagnosis and what attracted her to join the community in Carroll County.
You have both a medical degree and a doctorate in neuroscience from Yale. What led you to pursue a career in oncology as opposed to research or some other medical specialty?
Oncology allowed me to combine my commitment to deep, meaningful patient care with intellectually rigorous scientific inquiry. After completing my doctorates, I pursued both clinical oncology and translational research, publishing several studies in peer-reviewed journals. My first faculty appointment was primarily research in scope, with a 20 percent patient care component. Although I loved the laboratory and the scientific process, clinical oncology grew into my primary passion. Over time, I restructured my career to allow greater commitment to the clinic. Today I am thrilled to be a full-time clinician whose strong research background greatly informs my patient-centered, evidence-based practice.
How has the field of oncology changed in the time you have been practicing? Are there advances you think would be surprising to lay people who have not been following the latest advances?
A: The power of genomic assays to predict cancer behavior and treatment response is among the most substantive advances in clinical practice. We have entered an age in which therapies can be individualized to address specific abnormalities identified within a patient's cancer using advanced lab tests that fish immense amounts of genetic information. Bioinformatic methods can then be used to identify patterns of genes with known associations to better or worse clinical outcomes. Ultimately, we can use such genomic comparisons to determine whether a breast cancer patient, for example, is more or less likely to benefit from chemotherapy thereby sparing some patients unnecessary treatment or, conversely, recommending treatment in patients whose gene profiles indicate benefit but who might otherwise not have received needed treatment based on classic clinical indicators.
This is an immensely powerful approach that optimizes patient selection and continues to change the way cancer care is practiced across many different disciplines, including radiation therapy, medical oncology and surgery.
What are the things you think patients should know when they are referred to you for treatment?
I am, above all, each patient's partner in this fight against cancer. I will work with their other providers in a multidisciplinary team approach to care. I will listen to their concerns, treat them with respect, and give them thorough relevant information to make management decisions that are consistent with their goals. It is my great honor to advise and care for them.
Are there any myths about cancer treatment you find yourself addressing regularly, are any pieces of advice or information you wish all patients coming to you had been prepared with ahead of time?
The idea that cancer is a single disease is a major myth. In actuality, cancer has many different mechanisms that manifest in various ways. Some cancers are highly curable with appropriate treatment, some cancers remain difficult to control even with our most current approaches, whereas other cancers can be safely observed without active treatment. These variations make it very stressful for patients as they get advice from well-meaning family and friends and as they try to independently research their disease using sources such as the internet. It is important that we as oncologists equip patients with an understanding of the specific name and extent (stage) of their disease before they are bombarded with misplaced information that may provoke undue fear and anxiety.
Key questions for patients to ask each of their doctors when given a diagnosis of cancer are: What type of cancer is it? Is it localized or has it spread (stage)? The answers to these two questions drives much of the decision making for their care.
Beginning this month, you will be taking a new post as the head of radiation oncology at the William E. Kahlert Regional Cancer Center. What drew you to our community as the next step in your career?
Prior to joining the William E. Kahlert Regional Cancer Center, I served as regional medical director of six New England radiation oncology centers in joint venture partnerships between a national cancer care provider and several local health systems. This role provided tremendous breadth of experience with various healthcare cultures. By far, the culture I loved most was that of the community-based hospital in which the modus operandi at every operational level was excellence in the patient experience.
When I learned about the opportunity to lead the radiation oncology department for the William E. Kahlert Regional Cancer Center, I was not looking to leave New England. However, a persistent recruiter convinced me to visit the program. Surprisingly, that visit demonstrated that the opportunity at Carroll Hospital represented all of the parts of my job that I most loved in the type of care culture that I most value. It was serendipity at its finest.
What gets you most excited about coming to work in the morning?
That's an easy one. Patients!
When you think about the state of oncology ten years from now, what are you excited about?
I am excited about the advancement of what I refer to as "bespoke care." That is, individualized cancer therapies based on specific genetic abnormalities of each patient's cancer. I am also very excited about advancements in nano-technologies that will allow us to assess and target disease at the molecular-genetic level. Advancements in molecular imaging and highly targeted radiation delivery techniques are also in the pipeline. All of these advances are only possible through collaboration of basic, translational and clinical researchers and practitioners with deep understanding of how to interpret and apply the science. I feel tremendously optimistic about what we will achieve for our patients in oncology over the next decade.
Gabeau is accepting new patients at the William E. Kahlert Regional Cancer Center, at 291 Stoner Avenue, Westminster. To make an appointment, call 410-871-6400.
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