Children's Cancer Center teams include specialists from a variety of fields. The following physicians may be members of your child's cancer care team:
Dr. Gail Megason
Her soft laugh bounces around a room, coming quickly and frequently in a conversation. She points to a photo of her grandchildren, “the light of my life,” as she recounts her uneven journey to becoming a pediatrician, a hematologist/oncologist, head of Children's Cancer Center, and clinical medical director of the Cancer Institute.
As a young, divorced mother with a toddler, she went to the University of Southern Mississippi to become a nurse. An organic chemistry professor intervened, helping her focus on an earlier dream: following an adored older brother's path to become a medical doctor.
Now, she said, she has it all. “I enjoy academic medicine. I enjoy being able to teach. I enjoy doing patient care. I even enjoy the administrative role,” she said. “I enjoy juggling all these balls.” Treatment has advanced at this center, and doctors here treat many different types of childhood cancers. Getting treatment here allows families to stay closer to home, closer to family and friends who can provide support during a child's illness.
She almost didn't take the clinic leadership role, Dr. Megason said. Dr. Jeanette Pullen was retiring. “She left such big shoes to fill,” Dr. Megason said. “I have not tried to fill her shoes. I've worn my own high heel sandals.” Ultimately, she said, she hopes the click of those heels echoes down an empty hall, past empty rooms, and into a world without cancer.
Dr. Betty Herrington
Seeing a need and then finding a way to fill it have marked Dr. Betty Herrington's path to becoming a pediatric neuro-oncologist.
As a teen, a fishing trip to rural Mexico with family spawned the idea that she wanted to become a physician. While talking to some of the locals, she discovered they had no medical care for 200 miles. “I said then I'd like to do that, become a doctor,” she said.
As she was completing her medical training, she discovered the state had no pediatric neuro-oncologist, a specialist who deals with children's brain and spinal cord tumors. So she completed a fellowship in it at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and returned to the Children's Cancer Center at UMMC to help fully develop the neuro-oncology program. Now, she teaches the state's next generation of caregivers, cares for patients, and does research on disparities in disease and care among Mississippi's childhood cancer patients.
Outside work, this mother of three and grandmother teaches children's music and Sunday school at her church and enjoys seeing her twin sister, snow skiing, and fruit, vegetable, and flower gardening. Her other passion? “I'm a rabid Ole Miss football fan,” she said laughing.
Dr. Suvankar Majumdar
Dr. Suvankar “Seve” Majumdar is where he wants to be. His confidence in where he is and what he's doing shows in his quiet, deliberate movements. “As a child I always thought I'd be a physician. I'd help care for people,” he said. “I feel blessed that I have the ability to help people.”
As a member of the Children's Cancer Center treatment team, he works primarily with children with blood disorders such as hemophilia or sickle cell anemia as well as blood disorders caused by cancer.
A mentor during residency in Michigan pointed the way. When Dr. Jeanette Pullen, then head of the Mississippi clinic, picked him up from the airport for his fellowship interview, he said he knew he was home. “I knew this was a program that would take care of me,” he said. First as a fellow and now as a member of the team, and he says that care extends to every patient.
Why children? “They're a joy to work with,” he said, a smile hovering. “They can put a smile on your face very quickly.”
Outside work, he spends time with his wife and son and plays the tabla (drums), sometimes backing up friends. Music, especially early rock, and playing chess are favorite pastimes.
Dr. Catherine Gordon
At age five or six, Dr. Catherine Gordon said she was introduced to the world of pediatric care. “I was sick frequently. I had big lymph nodes,” she said. “They couldn't figure out what was wrong with me.” The idea of becoming a pediatric oncologist may have been planted in those encounters but grew full force at 18. “I prayed about it,” she said. “And God said I was meant to be a pediatric oncologist. I wish everything else had been so clear in life.”
Today, it's clear she loves her work with children at Children's Cancer Center. She laughs as she relates stories of the young patients who have questioned her, tried to stump her, even water-ballooned her at Camp Rainbow, a camp for children in treatment or who have recovered from cancer.
“Children are incredibly resilient, creative,” she said. “They can go through so much and still have an incredible outlook on life. That's remarkable.” Her research focuses on making the “so much” they go through a little easier. Dr. Gordon, with others here at UMMC, is searching for drugs which have fewer side effects, so her patients have a better quality of life during and after treatment.
Outside work, she enjoys time with her family, including her two young children. Laundry and grocery shopping are the norm but “I can take a nap on a good day,” she said.
Dr. Anderson Collier
Mississippi provided the perfect location for a doctor whose parents are in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and whose in-laws are in Texas.
It also offered this pediatric hematologist/oncologist what he calls a dream work solution. So, Dr. Anderson Collier and his family moved from Pennsylvania (in a program affiliated with the University of South Florida) to Mississippi where he could practice his love-working with children with cancer and blood diseases.
Wearing a deep red shirt and a tie decorated with bright yellow rubber duckies, Collier seems to fit right in at Children's Cancer Center. “I was one of those who went to medical school knowing what I wanted to be, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist,” he said. He knows from personal experience the pain cancer leaves, and that understanding helps drive his desire to alleviate it.
“I had a cousin who died when she was seven or so years old of a liver tumor,” he said. Later, as a medical student at Vanderbilt, when the son of his mother's co-worker was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he said, “I would go sit with him in the ICU and read to him.” These experiences also helped him prepare for one crucial non-medical element of his job: finding a way to relate to his patients. From rubber duckie ties to keeping up with pop culture, he strives to find a topic he can discuss with patients, whether they preschool or high school age, or anywhere in between.
At home, this dad and husband enjoys spending time with his family, music, and cooking and experimenting with new recipes. He hopes the weather allows him to start teaching his son golf soon, and down the road, he said, “I have a banjo I haven't learned to play yet. I can play the guitar.”
Dr. Clinton Carroll
Just how does a self-described bookworm, a mid-Western guy, end up treating children with cancer in Mississippi?
“I was interested in English Lit,” Iowa native Dr. Clinton Carrol expalins. A job teaching creative writing at a summer camp for kids with chronic medical needs, including cancer, set him on a different path, “the happiest accident" of his life.
After that experience, he thought he'd just try a few science classes. A few led to more, and soon he was a physician board-certified in pediatrics and pediatric hematology-oncology. After three years in research, he realized, “What I really got into medicine to do was take care of patients.”
UMMC offered a place for him to work with children and for his wife, a clinical pharmacist, to work in her field. The move also offered a link to on-going genetic research, one of his passions.
“I'm very interested in kids with a genetic predisposition to have cancer,” and while these syndromes are rare, he's seen a few and expects to see more in a state as ethnically diverse as Mississippi.
He calls Mississippi the perfect home. “I'm a fake Southerner from the mid-West,” he laughs. “I really do like the South.”
And why not? Dr. Carrol met his wife at Vanderbilt University while they were in school, and UMMC allows them both to practice their specialties and remain close to her family in Tennessee.
Outside of work, relaxation is a priority for the couple. “Our idea of a fun weekend is to sit back and read a book,” he said, listing his favorite Mississippi authors William Faulkner and Barry Hannah. Other hobbies include traveling regionally and running.
Dr. Melissa Rhodes
For as long as she can remember, Dr. Melissa Rhodes has wanted to be a medical caregiver: “When I was 6-years-old, I wrote in my first grade daily journal, I want to be a doctor. My parents kept that, and I have it framed now."
Her desire to work in the medical field, whether as a nurse, as a doctor, or as a “person who serves the food,” never wavered.
Today, this pediatric hematology/oncology doctor works with children who have cancer or sickle cell disease. She despises the blood diseases she treats in children, but enjoys seeing her patients. “Children are very up front,” meaning that caregivers don't have to read between the lines. "When they hurt, they say so. When they're mad, people around them know it.”
Dr. Rhodes treats many children with a chronic illness, so she gets to know each child and family over time. And working with families is rewarding: “You feel appreciated. Families want to work with the medical staff. If you're going to do just one thing each day, you want that one thing to make a difference in people's lives.”
As a physician, she also believes in using appropriate holistic medicine to complement conventional medicine.
Her path to medicine has taken Dr. Rhodes to several states including Virginia, Ohio, and Tennessee. In Mississippi, the Vermont native has found something the other states didn't offer: more time for outdoor activities. Her outdoor interests include hiking, bicycling, kayaking, and polocrosse (a combination of polo and lacrosse).
“I love the outdoors, getting dirty. Mostly I just throw my dog in the car, and we go.”
Dr. Andrew Parent
You might call him an icebreaker in his field. Not because Dr. Andrew Parent is a Vermont native, but because he developed a life-long interest in pediatric neurosurgery before fellowships in the field even existed. Today, he sits back and recounts the numerous advances in this medical niche: better drugs to fight brain cancers, better surgical suites for children, better surgical procedures, better instruments, better training for incoming doctors.
Some things don't change: “Kids get sick fast, but they get better fast,” he said. His love of children and the adults who care for them is another constant. “People who take care of children don't tend to have big egos,” he said. “We will do anything for the child.”
Sometimes, that means the neurosurgeon crawls on the floor to get on his patient's level. Usually, it means he tries to become their friend. “Maybe that's why we have the nurses give the injections,” he said, barely grinning.
While knowledge, equipment, and procedures grew, he pins the success of Children's Cancer Center on the staff-from aides to top-named doctors. “We have incredibly dedicated people in pediatrics who are not here because of the salary, but because of their dedication to the child.”
Outside work, Dr. Parent likes to "putter" in his garden, where there are always branches to be cleared or beds to clean.
Dr. Mason Shiflett
As a child, when Dr. Mason Shiflett shadowed his surgeon grandfather on rounds, it awakened his interest in medicine. “It was all I ever wanted to do,” he said. He completed a residency at UMMC, fellowships at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, and now, as a pediatric neurosurgeon, he has returned to work with Mississippi's children.
“I really like the variety of cases we get,” he said. At UMMC, that includes children at Children's Cancer Center with brain and spinal malignancies. He enjoys the opportunity to teach, too. “This institution, this department, has done a lot for me. I'd like to give something back if I can,” he said. But the children are the big draw. “Children, by and large, are sincere when you deal with them,” he said. “The kids do fine. It's the parents who struggle.”
The birth of his first child put those parents' fears into perspective. This father of two treasures the time he can spend at home with his physician-wife and kids. Hobbies, such as golf and guitar playing, are occasional pastimes. He mainly focuses on family and activities that make him laugh, like trying to teach his daughter to play the ukulele.
Dr. Christopher Blewett
A physician and family friend introduced a young Dr. Christopher Blewett to medicine in the Detroit area by allowing him to tag along on rounds. Later, a love of science, an urge to help people, and the ability to solve problems led him to surgery.
Role models in medical school introduced him to pediatric surgery. “I realized I liked general surgery, and I just liked pediatric surgery better,” he said. As one of four pediatric general surgeons and chief of the pediatric surgery division at UMMC, he is working to grow the department to one with a regional presence and national reputation. “We want to take care of anything that needs to be taken care of in the region,” he said.
Outside work, this dad and stepdad of six (four at home) said he spends a lot of time “being a dad,” but also enjoys growing roses and is a “fairly avid fisherman.” He pauses, looks sideways at a visitor and volunteers: “I've also been known to pay attention to a Big Green Egg,” referring to the popular grill.
With four kids at home, he said, he does a lot of outdoor cooking. “I've kinda been proof a Northern guy can learn to cook Southern,” he said, adding he'd put his pulled pork up against any one's.
Dr. Jennifer Barr
An interest in art and a family history in construction helped prepare Dr. Jennifer Barr for her work as an oncologic orthopedic surgeon.
A Colorado native, she said her father was a carpenter. “I grew up in that environment,” she said. During her orthopedic rotation in medical school, she said, she found many tools were similar. “It was very natural for me,” she said. And, the art? “I dabbled in art in college-sculpture, drawing, and painting.”
Now she draws on both backgrounds to help patients. Most bone tumors, she said, are benign but may still need to be removed. Those that are malignant must be destroyed. At University Cancer Care, Dr. Barr works with patients who have bone tumors and sarcomas and those whose cancer has metastized to their bones.
Outside work, she said she and her husband, Clint Barr, a personal trainer, work to help grow his business, a fitness center. For now, she said, outside work, “All I do is work out.” Eventually, she said, she'll again dabble in art and has plans to build a pottery studio and kiln at her home.
Further down the road, she's exploring ways to start a foundation to help sarcoma patients. Sarcomas are cancers of the tissues that help connect and support the body, tissues such as bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, and blood vessels.
Dr. Madhava Kanakamedala
A child's glimpse into the difference a physician could make set Dr. Madhava Kanakamedala on the road to becoming a doctor.
“From childhood I was always fascinated by doctors. I saw how they helped some really sick people in my family,” said the radiation oncologist, most often called “Dr. Madhava.”
As a medical student, he was introduced to cancer therapy on a rotation through radiation oncology: “Until then I had not been exposed to cancer therapy.”
“It's very challenging,” he said. “The variety of disease occurring in so many different sites in the body is fascinating.”
Radiation oncology, using precise radiation to help defeat cancer, combines two interests: “I like the technology and the precision of radiation in addition to the biology,” he said.
He said he's seen cancer treatment in many countries. “In India it is very primitive, and here it is very advanced. The UK is in between. I like being in a place where the standard of care is high.”
His research focuses on improving therapy for patients. “I'm studying the sequence of therapy in head and neck cancers and using PET imaging to delineate tumors in lung cancer to gain a more precise therapy.”
He and his family have embraced the move to Mississippi. After 18 months in Boston, the weather in Mississippi was a relief. “It's similar to where I grew up.”
Outside work, the father of two said he likes to spend time with his wife, a physician at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, and their sons.
Dr. Jonathan Fratkin
Teaching comes naturally to this pathologist. Ask one question, and the names of dozens of substances Dr. Jonathan Fratkin can use to help diagnose childhood brain tumors tumble forth. It's an impressive arsenal, yet he picks up a book to show a visitor even newer ways scientists are studying to correctly identify cancers and the qualities they may possess.
Dr. Fratkin works with Children's Cancer Center to help diagnose brain and spinal cord tumors in children. If he can offer doctors a detailed picture of the cancer, a child's cancer care team can fine-tune treatment to focus not only on the correct cancer but also on any distinct qualities those cancer cells may contain. What about those brain tumors? “They can be devilish to diagnose,” he said.
He followed his father, an ophthalmologist in Brooklyn, N.Y., into medicine. At UMMC, he is a professor and teaches medical students and residents, works on biopsies and autopsies, and does research. Teaching and working to diagnose diseases are his passion.
Outside work, he likes bike riding, and he and his wife spend time keeping up with their adult children and following their Rhodesian Ridgeback, Ntombi Juji, to dog shows across the region.
Dr. John Lam
Dr. John Lam recalls searching the library for books about blood and bones when he was six. He laughs and admits it is a bit unusual but possibly an early indication of the career he would follow. Today, he is a pathologist who checks blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes for signs of blood cancers. “I like it,” he says, sitting before his microscope.
His mother's death of nasopharyngeal cancer more than a decade ago helped spark his interest in research. That research centers on finding new biomarkers which will help doctors better treat blood cancers. A former Army major, he practiced general medicine at Lyster Army Community Hospital in Fort Rucker, Alabama, before seeking a pathology residency and moving to the lab.
Outside of work, he enjoys spending time with his wife and four children.
Dr. Majid Khan
Every day, Dr. Majid Khan works to locate tiny targets, the cancerous cells growing inside someone's head or neck. “I just love what I do,” he said. He's intrigued by the intricate anatomy and pathology of the head and neck. “It's always fascinated me,” he said. He loves the anatomy, learning how the tumor spreads, and finding it to make a difference for his patient.
Working with the doctors treating cancers in the head and neck is another highlight. Dr. Khan said he's learned a lot from working with the other specialists. The India native came to the United States for a residency and to Mississippi to work at the G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery Veterans Administration Medical Center. The lure of academics drew him to UMMC where he has received the Teacher of the Year award. Now, he combines reading images with teaching and research.
Dr. Bruce Schlakman
A yearning for warm weather and the variety of working with students and practicing medicine led Dr. Bruce Schlakman from his native New York to Jackson, via Florida. “I was excited to get involved in something on the ground floor,” he said of a radiology department which was upgrading equipment and processes here.
Early in his education, he said, physics led him into radiology. “MRI was brand new, research only,” he said. As a medical student he was able to work in a research program involving a MRI. Now, new advances and ever-changing technology keep his job interesting, he said. “It's a fun technology field,” he said. “I like the technology, the physics of it.”
Those advances mean he's also providing ever more precise images of cancers to University Cancer Care team members, precision that helps the team recommend cancer treatment options for patients.
Dr. Todd Nichols
Practicing academic medicine in Mississippi is a priority for this McComb native. Before he left the state for his fellowship, Dr. Todd Nichols had already signed a contract to return to teach and practice at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
“During medical school, radiology played a pivotal role in every aspect of clinical medicine I rotated through,” he said. “Later, during the radiology residency, I became intrigued with brain, spine, and head and neck imaging.” During his fellowship, he further refined his skills and knowledge of advanced imaging techniques that allow him to practice academic neuroradiology.
His road to medicine may have begun at home. His father is an ophthalmologist. Outside of work, he enjoys golfing, fishing, and hunting.
Dr. Omar A. Abdul-Rahman
You might call him a good ole Southern/Iraqi boy, Dr. Omar Abdul-Rahman admits, leans forward in his chair and laughs. Today, you might even say he's come home. He was born at UMMC while his mother was completing a residency here.
“She trained under Dr. Wiser,” he said (Dr. Winfred L. Wiser for whom Wiser Hospital for Women is named).
Dr. Rahman (like Ramen noodles), the name which many here use, grew up in a medical compound near the Saudi Arabian hospital where his mother practiced medicine, and later she encouraged him to attend Millsaps College. He did. That's where his interest in genetics began. Today, he works with pediatric patients searching for genetic links for their illness. If he finds them, sometimes that means his patients may know particular treatments will work or that they need to be vigilant in screening for particular diseases to which they may be prone.
Why children? “Of all the rotations I went on as a medical student, they were so resilient,” he said. “I thought they were so much fun. Or maybe I'm just a big kid myself.”