An expert and a friend

The wonderful world of global oncology…

A few years ago I was asked to join the SIOP Education and Training Working Group as a co-chair by Jeremy Slone, a colleague from the USA who works in Botswana. The online platforms of the group fall under the POINTE umbrella. I was hesitant at first, being already overcommitted, but Jeremy managed to persuade me, claiming that it really wouldn’t take up much time. People, I have to tell you, my friend Jeremy is a liar. POINTE has taken up so much time and emotional energy I have had almost not enough time to breathe.

But the benefits – oh, the benefits!

One of the many projects of this group is the Find an Expert database. Jaime Libes, another fabulous colleague in the group, got together a large group of willing volunteers from North America and persuaded them to make themselves available for colleagues in low and middle income settings. Notice how I said “settings” not “countries”? Well, even in high income countries there are people working in under-resourced areas and they need help and the Experts have committed to teaching, training, visiting, email consults, teleconferences – whatever the local people need. And they do that at their own expense. Global oncology team spirit at its best.

And somehow, I found myself my very own expert. Neil Ranasinghe, my co-chair, has proven himself to be the most unlikely, most under-rated and most valuable expert I could ever imagine. Neil is a technical writer (yes, I also didn’t know what that was), as well as a parent of a cancer survivor and a machine when it comes to work in this group. Another legend who shall at this point remain nameless, when asked about him, said, “Neil. I think he walks on water. He’s the only person I know who answers emails faster than I do.” Well, we all know about balance, and about the slow movement and about pacing ourselves, and about how important it can be sometimes to just let an email mature for a while before answering, but sometimes having a Neil in your court can be life-changing.

This year I registered for a PhD (I know – crazy. Out of touch with reality i.e. how much work a PhD rally is.) One of the many, many steps in this unreal process is to write a protocol and create informed consent forms for patients and their caregivers. I had no idea that Neil, the guy I’d been working with for years, was actually an expert in writing consent and assent forms. As a parent of a survivor and a technical writer, he was uniquely positioned to help me and my team. I turned the forms over to him, he translated them into more understandable language and hey presto! The Wits Human Research Ethics Committee approved the consent and assent forms without a single query.

People like me, highly efficient introverts, have a problem asking for help. Neil, however, offered help and it was invaluable. It took a huge burden off  my shoulders and propelled my study forward. A guy in a high income country helped a gal in a middle income country and who benefits? The patients, of course. Now they will be educated and empowered to make informed choices about their own treatment and that of their children. And yes, they are currently being translated into more South African languages.

And I benefited. I gained a friend who is both fun and hard-working. He is supportively critical, super diligent and puts up with my whining when we walk foreign cities and my pathetic feet are sore. His dry sense of humour, ridiculous obsession with Adidas and commitment to the cause oil the wheels of friendship. 

Thanks Neil! And thanks to Jeremy who made me work even harder but inadvertently made my hard work easier. And thanks to the global oncology movement which is slowly improving services for kids with cancer around the world through collaborations such as this one.