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The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair

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Meet the Exec: Dr. Gary Lyman

March 4, 2016 - This is part of a Front Line series profiling SWOG's executive officers, which I hope will give you some insight into why I selected each to be part of my leadership team. This week, I feature Dr. Gary Lyman, executive officer for symptom control and quality of life research.

Dr. Gary Lyman

Practical, passionate, policy-focused – all of these alliterative terms aptly describe Gary Lyman, M.D., MPH, our new leader overseeing symptom control and quality of life research. This research is centered on patients and the effect cancer treatments have on them during and after their battle with the disease. Dr. Lyman is perfectly suited, by temperament, training, and experience for this position.

Understanding how people respond to potentially punishing drugs and how they can lead lives that are healthy physically, emotionally, financially, and socially after their cancer treatment ends, requires empathy and a discriminating mind. Dr. Lyman has these qualities in spades.

Growing up in Buffalo, New York, Dr. Lyman watched his father die young and in pain from aplastic anemia. His death pushed the family into poverty. This experience drew him to medicine, and, later, a career dedicated to improving the lives of cancer patients with better treatments and personalized, supportive care.

First at the Moffitt Cancer Center, then at Duke University, and now at the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where he is co-director of the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research (HICOR), Dr. Lyman serves the cancer community as a physician, researcher, policymaker, journal editor, faculty mentor, and a particularly vocal patient advocate.

Dr. Lyman has seen patients stop taking life-saving treatments because they can’t pay for them. He’s seen families sell their homes or go deep into debt. And his research has traced the human and financial toll. Just last month, Dr. Lyman – with SWOG’s Dr. Scott Ramsey and Patient Advocate Committee Chair Rick Bangs – published an editorial in JAMA Oncology on skyrocketing cancer drug prices. Cancer patients are twice as likely to go bankrupt than the rest of the population, and, when they do, they’re more likely to die. Cancer drug prices are potentially killing people.

Dr. Lyman calls the situation “close to criminal.”

“As a profession and a society, it is imperative that we find better answers for our patients and for all of us,” he says. “There is now a groundswell of awareness and efforts among my colleagues across the country and in organizations such as ASCO to find solutions to the unsustainable increase in the cost of cancer care. It is harming our patients and their families and we need to directly contribute to finding solutions.”

Now back at SWOG, after work with the Alliance and ECOG-ACRIN, Dr. Lyman is on the hunt for those solutions, working with Drs. Mike Fisch and Lynn Henry, co-chairs of our symptom control and quality of life committee.

“Mike and Lynn are absolutely fantastic thought leaders and share my dedication to supporting the next generation of investigators in this long overdue area of scientific endeavor – one so important to understanding and helping the patients we serve.”

A fellow hiker, Dr. Lyman is ready to scale some big peaks at SWOG. He is working now with Dr. Dawn Hershman and others to ensure patient reported outcomes and quality of life measures are stitched into trials early, rather than added on after trials are approved. I am pleased that we have this experienced, compassionate leader with us.


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