Dr. Kevin Mulvey is the Medical Director of Oncology Services at Kootenai Health. He graduated from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, and has practiced in southeastern Idaho and Minnesota. He says he and his family are happy to be back in the "green part" of Idaho. He's especially pleased with the early steps toward the creation of a comprehensive, top-notch regional care network through the newly formed cancer alliance among Kootenai Health, Providence and Cancer Care Northwest. "We have a rebirth of the cancer program, which had gone through some hard times," he says.
Cancer is a topic that scares a lot of people. Why did you choose oncology?
When I was in medical school and early in internal medicine training, I gravitated to oncology. It was fascinating in terms of the science and the pace of improvements. ... And one of the appeals is that people have a serious illness that requires complex decision-making. It is an intense juncture in their life. People have an intense relationship with the doctor. I didn't want to be an organ specialist. I wanted to be taking care of the whole person.
But doesn't it get depressing?
I think many people have a fairly nihilistic view of oncology, that it's a doom-and-gloom profession. That nobody survives. The reality is that we're making great strides. People are living longer. People are living better. It's not a depressing field. There's a lot of joy in it. Even those who succumb to their disease, it is a tremendous privilege to be involved in their lives. It is a gift that you are able to help them through that transition.
It seems that there has been some degree of disappointment that we don't yet have a "cure" for cancer. But how much progress has been made?
In the 20-plus years I've been doing this, in big strokes, what we've accomplished is more effective and less toxic chemotherapy. And phenomenally more effective supportive care — the ability to manage the side effects of chemo, the ability to mitigate the risk of infection. But in the last 10 years, the real change has been moving from treating cancer like one-size-fits-all to personalized therapy. The identification of specific molecular and biological markers has allowed us to identify treatments that specifically target the individual's cancer. These developments have improved the outcomes for many cancers, including breast, colon and lung cancer. ♦