During the interview, he told me that he normally does not do things like this. But the reason he did was because seventeen years ago he got a call from man telling him his daughter had a brain tumor. That man was my father. Dr. Friedman helped my dad through the whole thing. He could call my dad on the plane or at one in the morning. And my dad would call him for everything regarding my sister’s tumor and treatment.
When a parent first calls a doctor telling them their child has a brain tumor, they have to make sure they go a center of excellence. You should do a Google search for brain tumor organizations because they are all over the world. Once you find an organization, and a hospital, get yourself a sensor; don’t rush in. That is what my dad did. Dr. Friedman was my dad’s sensor. (You can google that too!!)
Dr. Friedman described to me a neuro-oncologists role with a patient with a brain tumor: “The neuro-oncologist is the one who brings to them the differences to treat somebody, to diagnose and treat somebody with a brain tumor. You want to get a neuro-oncologist from day one and they will help with the selection of surgeons, radiotherapists if necessary, and the actual medical treatment if needed; you want to get somebody that is familiar with the treatment of a brain tumor.”
I was told that the neuro-oncologist has a role after the treatments are done as well. Their job is maintaining the patients’ quality of life. That is what they fight for: the quality of life.
Dr. Friedman was there when there was confusion on the type of tumor that my sister had. His team on the east coast (he is at Duke University) was saying it was a Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma (JPA), and there was a team on the west coast saying that it was an oligodendroglioma. The thing about this disagreement is a JPA is benign; it does not grow. An oligodendroglioma is malignant, meaning it does grow. Misha’s tumor was growing. It had quintupled in size a week after this disagreement. I asked Dr. Friedman just how important is it to getting diagnosis to determining the proper treatment. Here I thought that it is always important, but he told me that is true in most cases but not all. He said it is only important if you are going to do therapy. If it has an unpredictable biology and you don’t know what it is, it is very important to know the diagnosis.
One of the most important thing about brain tumors and brain tumor research is keeping hope alive. In Dr. Friedman’s words, “the hope is all around you.” Everyday there are new things coming out with therapy, with better diagnostics, and the use of molecular analyses. As long as there is hope for better treatment there is hope for better outcomes.
There is always one question I ask every doctor I interview. That question is what these doctors find most rewarding about their job. I get answers like the research is the best part, or the fact that they’re making a difference. Dr. Friedman’s answer was very similar, yet it made me feel very proud to be doing what I am doing. I have to quote exactly what he said here because I don’t think I can say it any better:
“Calls like from you. Calls where I get somebody who’s telling me that somebody I spoke to seventeen years ago has done well and is doing great and now has a younger sister who wants to give back to the field. That is the most rewarding thing in my life. And your call today came in a week that has been particularly grim for a number of different things that have been sad. Getting this call has made it a much better day.”
I was very happy with this phone call. In fact, it was probably one of the most important phone calls I’ve ever made. I got into interview a world renowned neuro-oncologist and someone who saved my sisters life just by taking my dad’s phone call seventeen years ago.
Not only that, but he also offered (more like made it sound like it was something I had to do) to help me get into my dream college. I’m a seventeen year old girl who aspires to go to Columbia University. It’s a tough thing to do. But Dr. Friedman told me he is going to help me. He wants me to send him my college application, personal statements, and the name of the head of the board at Columbia. All I could think when he told me this was “oh my goodness…” I was speechless, so I just let him continue. He told me he would talk to the head of the board to make sure I got a light shined on my name when I applied. And he told me he could probably get me in. And here is what he said: “I could get you in. I mean…I’m famous. I’m world famous. So they’ll know me there and I’ll have some pull to make sure you get there.” I laughed so hard I had to cover my mouth so I could still hear his voice on the other end.
I hope that you have learned as much from this interview as I had. There were many things that I thought I knew that turned out to be wrong. I’m very fortunate to be able to share this with all of you. If you want to check out the entire transcribed interview, click here.