Dr. Stephen Sagar is a radiation oncologist at the Juravinski Cancer Centre. He has worked at HHS for 25 years.
What made you enter your field of work? At high school in England, I was interested in combining science and art with their application to helping people. A degree in Pharmacology and Medicine gave me those opportunities. I developed an interest in cancer treatment since it is a multi-faceted disease that allowed me to combine my interests of anti-cancer research, education, and applying whole person supportive care to people undergoing the trauma of dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Since physics was my weakest subject at high school, I challenged myself by specializing in radiation oncology. I was fortunate to discover that it also allowed me to combine my artistic creativity with the 3-dimensional radiation planning process.
“I really enjoy working with a superb team of doctor colleagues, nurses, technologists, and many other health care professionals who come together as a multi-disciplinary team.”
What do you love most about your job? As a Canadian radiation oncologist, I love that fact that I can work with the whole patient and take responsibility for most of their medical and psychological problems. I also really enjoy working with a superb team of doctor colleagues, nurses, technologists, and many other health care professionals who come together as a multi-disciplinary team. Although I trained in the U.K., I chose Canada because of its outstanding cancer care system. Although we have many financial challenges in providing all services, I am proud that the division of radiation oncology in Hamilton and Niagara has the finest facilities and patient-centered care in the world. I really mean that. This has occurred through strong leadership in Hamilton Health Sciences. But, our dedicated staff that treat our patients with compassion and respect, are our strongest asset.
Describe one of your most challenging days at work. This has to be the Friday head and neck clinic! Since we see all patients for consultation immediately, this is a crowded clinic and it is challenging to be able to spend adequate time with each patient. Head and neck cancer patients present with multiple issues that require immediate supportive care. These issues range from including pain control, nutrition, psychological reactions, addictions, dental pathology, to concerns about future work due to consequences of treatment, fatigue and potential loss of voice.
We are fortunate to have a multidisciplinary team of expert oncologists, surgeons, nurses, radiation technologists, dieticians, and a dental hygienist. Staging, pathology, and a plan of treatment must be integrated rapidly with a plan of supportive care, since these cancers can be very distressing and can progress rapidly. We do our best to ensure rapid, safe treatment with the best supportive care possible.
What do you do after work to unwind? I go to the gym and do spin cycling, yoga, and Tai Qi. I like to read science fiction or psychological fiction or watch art movies. Although I try to meditate, I must admit I find it very difficult since my mind is always conjuring up new ideas such as artwork to paint or poetry to write. When I get the chance, I like to attend the National Ballet in Toronto, visit the exhibitions at the Ontario Gallery of Art, and see off-beat movies at TIFF.
“Although it is my job and responsibility, there can be great satisfaction hearing that they dealt with the challenges of cancer and that I made a contribution as part of our multidisciplinary team.”
Tell us about your most gratifying experience at HHS. No doubt seeing patients cured of their cancer and their kind words of gratitude for helping them through the experience. Although it is my job and responsibility, there can be great satisfaction hearing that they dealt with the challenges of cancer and that I made a contribution as part of our multidisciplinary team. Even those patients who are not cured, helping them through their suffering is satisfying. Occasionally, I have done home visits. Seeing one patient (without relatives) die comfortably in his bed with his pit bull dog nuzzling him faithfully to the end made it all worthwhile. My resident even rehabilitated his dog to a new home in the country.