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Komera's ASCO Voices presentation featured in the ASCO Daily News

On July 27, 2020 the ASCO Daily News featured Komera's presentation, among several excellent talks for the ASCO Voices session of ASCO 2020. Read the full article below:

Six presenters will tell their unique stories, including a bond fashioned in the poisoned legacy of the Chernobyl disaster, a career that is shattering racial barriers, and how collecting worms paved the way to an illustrious oncology career. This special session is titled “ASCO Voices” and will broadcast on August 9 at 2 PM during the ASCO20 Virtual Education Program.

Dr Jose Bufill and Alice Cyusa

Cancer and the Legacy of Chernobyl

Jose A. Bufill, MD, FACP, a medical oncologist at Michiana Hematology Oncology, PC, and his patient, Alice Cyusa, will share the story of her leukemia diagnosis, 30 years after being exposed to the fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine while a student at the Odessa University. Ms. Cyusa, who is originally from Rwanda, successfully completed treatment under Dr. Bufill’s care last year. Since then, they have joined forces to start the “Komera Rwanda! Cancer Foundation,” a nonprofit organization that aspires to promote cancer education and patient care in Rwanda.

“I grew up in Africa, where a cancer diagnosis means you need to prepare for death. We have few resources to prevent cancer and treatment is very expensive,” Ms. Cyusa said.

Dr. Bufill is inspired by his patient’s indomitable spirit and shares her determination to help patients with cancer and health care workers improve care for Rwandans. “Our first visit to Rwanda [together] a year ago was a moment of awakening for me. I discovered a very great unmet need, a great willingness to address that need, and few resources to do so,” Dr. Bufill said.

Shattering Racial Barriers in Cancer Careers and Care

Onyemaechi Okolo, MD, an early-career medical oncologist at the University of Arizona, will reflect on her identity as one of only 2% of black female oncologists in the United States and only 2% of actively practicing black physicians. During her presentation, “Two Percent Times Two,” Dr. Okolo will describe her experience as an oncologist of color who is breaking down invisible barriers of race with her patients and nurturing successful doctor-patient relationships that have contributed to her own growth and satisfaction as an oncologist.

Dr Onyemaechi Okolo

“It’s actually turned out to be something that I find rejuvenating because not only do I get to be a new face for the patient, but I have been able to see how human beings adapt to changing situations,” Dr. Okolo said. “I’ve been able to build relationships with my patients and witness their different phases of growth, which has helped me grow as an oncologist.”

Collecting Worms Leads to Career in Oncology

Kurt R. Oettel, MD, MBA, FACP, of the Gundersen Health System, will present “Life Lessons from Worm Boy.” Years ago, as an undergraduate with an unimpressive GPA and MCAT scores that ranked in the bottom 5%, Dr. Oettel was advised to have a backup plan, and feared his future career in medicine might never happen.

Dr. Oettel’s backup plan was to get his emergency medical technician license, become a medical chart reviewer, and collect worms. “I, like many other budding physicians to be, viewed laboratory work with some authorship on abstract scientific concepts as a ticket to admission,” Dr. Oettel said. “Hence, I applied to a neuro-anatomy lab where I initially thought I would be involved in cutting-edge research that would bring success to my application.”

Instead, Dr. Oettel found himself collecting worms, the study subject of all experiments, from freshly slaughtered hog intestines. He would eventually fulfill his career aspirations and more, and cherish the unexpected, unglamorous

path to get there for teaching him invaluable life lessons. “Most obstacles that we see in our lives are opportunities in disguise,” he said.

Additional presentations will include “How Are You?” by Julia L. Close, MD, of the University of Florida, and “Ode to Rachel” by Aparna Raj Parikh, MD of the University of California San Francisco.

— Geraldine Carroll

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