What a Canadian Oncologist Wants You to Understand About Lung Cancer

Dr. Parneet Cheema is blazing her own medical trail with one mission in mind: to improve the care of patients with lung cancer.

Lung Cancer

This oncologist is forever changing how patients experience lung cancer

At 40 years old, Dr. Parneet Cheema, a female medical oncologist at William Osler Health System in Brampton is making an impact on her community by putting lung cancer in the medical spotlight. “I recently moved my practice to Osler and have taken on the role as the lead for lung cancer and the oncology clinical trials program,” says Cheema. “This allows me to offer patients at Osler new and promising therapies for their cancer.”

That passion she has for her patient’s health has lead to her most recent project: “To receive funding to start the first-of-its-kind immunotherapy program for cancer at Osler.” This program will not only focus on improving a patient’s journey, but the outcomes of these therapies as well.

This is where her #BHmoment begins.

The cancer symptoms women are likely to ignore.

What Canadians need to know, and why it was important for her to take on the project

“A common misconception is that there are no treatments for lung cancer. On the contrary, there are so many treatments available to patients that can both extend their lives and maintain their quality of life. We just have to find the right treatment for the patient’s lung cancer. We now have very well tolerated and highly effective targeted treatments,” she says.

“For example, in ALK-positive lung cancer specifically, the men and women it affects are fathers, mothers and working members of society. By treating ALK-positive patients with targeted therapies, they can continue working and be present for their families. We also have immunotherapy which uses one’s immune system to fight the lung cancer. After seeing the promise of personalized therapies in lung and other cancer types, I’ve made it my mission to improve care for patients and promote education through as many channels as I possibly can.”

What she’s learned

“I’ve learned that a lot of work needs to be put in to make change happen. In a complex disease area like cancer, there’s so much to be done to improve a patient’s journey with cancer and patient outcomes — but change doesn’t happen overnight. Looking back on my experiences, I have learned it’s all about surrounding yourself with a strong team, knowledgeable colleagues to lean on, and motivated nurses and allied health professionals,” she says.

And from a care perspective, “I learned that individualizing treatment for my patients is crucial. We are always taught ‘textbook’ ways of doing things in our medical training, but at the end of the day, a custom approach to cancer treatment can yield the best results for patients.”

What keeps her going

“I don’t think I will ever reach my goal, and that’s what keeps me going,” she says. “The field of cancer treatments is rapidly changing, and I know we can always do better. But today I feel like I’m making an impact on the community.” And with a clinical trials program for those with lung cancer currently in motion, it has brought a lot of excitement to the Brampton area. “We serve a huge population of newcomers to Canada, so it’s very rewarding to see the impact of this quality of care first-hand. But underneath it all, I love my role as a medical oncologist where I get to know my patients and have the honour of them trusting me with their lives. It’s truly humbling.”

Her motto: If you put your mind to it, you can do anything

“People will always say you can’t do something, but anything can be done if you put your mind to it. You’ll have to do your homework, involve the right team to support you, and bring an intense amount of energy to make your dream happen. If you’re doing something new off the beaten path, do the legwork and prove that it will work, and everyone will jump on board. If you build it, they will come.”

The advice she gives friends

“Doing new things is harder than following an existing path. You can choose an easy path that has been travelled, or take a leap of faith and blaze your own trail.”

This is why being vocal about metastatic breast cancer is so important.