A Powerful Prescription: Avon Global Scholars and Mentors Fighting Breast Cancer Together

By: All for the Breast Editorial Team, March 30, 2016

March 30th marks National Doctors’ Day – the perfect day to honor physicians for their service. As we all know too well, it takes a squad of doctors, nurses, and navigators to treat a single patient throughout her breast cancer diagnosis, and many are often behind the scenes.

Enter Dr. Goss, a South African-born, University of London-trained oncologist leading not only a global crusade against breast cancer, but also the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade’s Scientific Advisory Board as its Chairman. Dr. Goss also serves as a mentor to the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade’s Global Scholar Program. Avon Breast Cancer Crusade Program Director Carolyn Ricci created the Avon Global Breast Cancer Clinical Scholars program, an initiative that identifies promising doctors who are making a significant impact worldwide and offers them a scholarship to study at leading cancer institutions in the U.S.

The program serves as a catalyst of change for the developing world. In many countries, providers are scarce and state-of-the-art cancer care is difficult to find.  Some countries have only a handful of physicians trained in general oncology, and even fewer trained in breast cancer care. This creates a perpetuating cycle of women seeking care at late stages of their disease, met by a lack of skilled providers in their regions.

For the duration of the program, each Global Scholar is teamed up with a mentor. The mentors are nothing short of heroic, as they train Global Scholars in pioneering cancer care and help save lives worldwide by offering tremendous insight and clinical practice expertise. The outcome: Global Scholars come to the U.S. to learn new techniques in treatment and research, build their networks, and enhance breast cancer care in their home countries. They also support the continuum of care of breast health worldwide – from the development of novel diagnostic tests to innovative approaches to breast reconstructive surgery.

In honor of Doctor’s Day, the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade has announced its third class of Avon Global Breast Cancer Clinical Scholars, who will come to the U.S. on April 30. To celebrate, we asked four program mentors to introduce themselves and tell us what motivates them to wake up every day and continue the fight against breast cancer:

Avon Breast Cancer Crusade

Dr. Goss, Avon Breast Cancer Crusade Scientific Advisory Board Chair

Name: Dr. Paul Goss

Titles: Director of the Avon Breast Cancer Center of Excellence at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center; Founder and Chief Mission Officer, Global Cancer Institute (GCI)

City: Boston, Massachusetts

Where are you from originally? South Africa

What are your professional areas of interest/focus?

For most of my research career, I’ve led multiple international clinical trials, studying the role of estrogen in the pathogenesis of breast cancer and various drug therapies for the treatment of breast cancer. However, I recently shifted my focus to study global breast cancer mortality in underserved patients, leading research initiatives and coordinating programs with global oncologists to improve access to care and clinical expertise in low- and middle-income countries.

What brought you to the challenging work of fighting to end breast cancer?

I am a career breast cancer oncologist, and there is a disproportionate mortality from breast cancer among different populations worldwide. Growing up under the apartheid system in South Africa, I saw firsthand the obstacles and discrimination that poorer patients face when trying to access healthcare, which directly leads to vast differences in mortality. I saw it again when I started visiting and speaking at hospitals around the world. Underserved patients have no advocate – especially someone experienced in breast cancer research – so I decided to help give them a voice.

What moment in your career are you most proud of?

I am very proud of starting the Global Cancer Institute (GCI), a 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to improving the survival and quality of life of underserved cancer patients worldwide. Our growing network now includes over 350 doctors. We conduct Global Tumor Boards, Patient Navigation Programs, and a have established a Young Women’s Breast Cancer Database, among other initiatives, all focused on reducing the mortality from cancer and improving the lives of cancer patients and their families.

What do you hope to gain from working with the Avon Global Scholars?

My goal as a mentor is to improve access to care among patients in underserved populations, not only through exposing the Scholars to the excellent clinical practice and research happening here at MGH, but also through participation in projects focusing on access to care issues in their respective home countries. We introduce our Scholars to our other Global Fellows and invite them to participate in our Global Tumor Boards. This way, we create a family of doctors that stay connected long after they leave Boston, so they may continue to learn together and create change once they’ve returned home.

 

Baylor College of Medicine

Dr. Ellis, Lester and Susan Smith Breast Care Center

Name: Dr. Matthew Ellis

Title: Professor and Director of the Lester and Susan Smith Breast Care Center; Administrative Oncology/Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine

City: Houston, Texas

Where are you from originally? U.K.

What are your professional areas of interest/focus?

A cure for breast cancer based on the understanding of the fundamental biological processes that cause the disease.

What brought you to the challenging work of fighting to end breast cancer?

My early experiences as a young doctor, seeing the suffering of breast cancer patients and the impact of their deaths on their families and loved ones.

What moment in your career are you most proud of?

Seeing how discoveries made in my laboratory have changed the way breast cancer care is practiced.

What do you hope to gain from working with the Avon Global Scholars?

Supporting and training the next generation of physicians who can take back their experience at Baylor College of Medicine to improve outcomes in their home countries.

 

Avon Comprehensive Breast Center Director

Dr. Gabram, Avon Comprehensive Breast Center at Grady Health System

Name: Dr. Sheryl G. A. Gabram

Titles: Director, Avon Comprehensive Breast Center at Grady Health System; Professor of Surgery, Emory University School of Medicine; Surgeon-in-Chief (Emory), Grady Health System; Deputy Director, Georgia Cancer Center for Excellence at Grady; and Distinguished Cancer Scholar, Georgia Cancer Coalition

City: Atlanta, Georgia

Where are you from originally? Williamsburg, Virginia

What are your professional areas of interest/focus?

Currently focused on decreasing disparities of breast cancer care through a community education outreach program and providing access to high-quality care for breast cancer patients.

What brought you to the challenging work of fighting to end breast cancer?

An interest in making a difference for women with the disease and for women who do not have access to high-quality breast care.

What moment in your career are you most proud of?

Being recruited to be the director of the Avon Comprehensive Breast Center at Grady – and now looking back at what we’ve accomplished for more than 10 years. Some of these accomplishments include: standardizing practices across specialties and two medical schools; providing high-quality care with better access for our women (from screening mammography to diagnostic mammography/biopsy and multi-disciplinary care for our patients); expanding services to allow for access to genetic counselors and clinical trials; and being a training site for breast surgical oncology fellows, residents, medical and PA students and global scholars.

What do you hope to gain from working with the Avon Global Scholars?

Share best practices from our Avon Center that they can adopt in their countries. Also, they have taught us perspectives of breast cancer in areas of the world with decreased access to high-quality care—this has impacted how we have cared for our patients.

 

Associate Director, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Associate Director, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Name: Dr. Ben Ho Park

Title:  Professor of Oncology, Breast and Ovarian Cancer Program and Associate Director, Hematology/Oncology Fellowship Training Program at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

City: Baltimore, Maryland

Where are you from originally? Saginaw, Michigan

What are your professional areas of interest/focus?

Developing new therapeutics and diagnostics for breast cancer using genetic based approaches

What brought you to the challenging work of fighting to end breast cancer?

My passion for breast cancer research and clinical work comes from personal experience when a family member passed away from this disease.  My “aha” moment came during my training at Hopkins, where I recognized that Hopkins Oncology was singularly focused on trying to cure cancer and not just studying this disease; the ethos of Hopkins’ culture is to perform research that will lead to direct impact for patient care.

What moment in your career are you most proud of?

Being the first group to demonstrate a high frequency of PIK3CA mutations in human breast cancers, and more recently for pioneering the use of cell-free plasma tumor DNA to help guide therapeutic decisions for breast cancer management.

What do you hope to gain from working with the Avon Global Scholars?

Hope that my role as an educator and mentor for the Avon Global Scholars program will extend our reach to breast cancer physicians throughout the world and afford them the opportunity to learn the latest advances in all aspects of breast cancer research and care. The Avon Global Scholars Mentors are breaking new ground every day to improve the lives of patients, their families and communities.  Join us in expressing our gratitude to these tireless doctors working at the front-lines of breast cancer care.