"I specifically chose this field so I can really make a difference."
I'm Tsewang Tashi. I'm an assistant professor in the division of hematology and hematologic malignancies at the University of Utah, and I'm also one of the hematologists at the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs hospital.
What is your work at Huntsman Cancer Institute?
It's been about six, seven years for me now at Huntsman. My focus is on hematologic malignancies—that is, blood cancers. My patient population is usually older, especially at the VA hospital. I see a lot of veterans with these types of cancers. I've built very long-lasting relationships with patients and it's very gratifying that there are a lot of new treatments coming out these days.
How have hematologic cancer treatments changed?
Since the turn of the decade, and the millennium, I think there's been a big revolution, for lack of a better word, in the treatment of cancer. Now we have more targeted and precision medicine treatments available for patients. And the diseases that were pretty fatal in the past are no longer deemed as fatal. We've managed to make more cancers into chronic diseases. Though there’s still a long way to go before we can completely cure these diseases, we've made tremendous progress.
What is your cancer research focus?
Initially, I worked in a lab with my mentor. He specializes in blood and blood diseases. And one of our projects was to look at how high-altitude, hypoxic environments affect people’s blood. One patient population group in the research was Tibetan because Tibetans have lived in very high altitude for generations. Being of Tibetan background, this was very appealing to me. I had a chance to go back to Tibet, which is my ancestral homeland. It was a very moving experience and it meant a lot to me during that project.
What shaped your interest in oncology?
My parents are Tibetans; they came from Tibet after the Chinese Revolution in the late 1950's. I was born in India and was raised there through high school. Then I went to Taiwan for medical school. My mother always had this notion that we should be a useful and productive part of society. And especially as a child of a refugee, she had a very strong feeling that I should do something that people would value.
We're also a very traditional Buddhist family. Therefore, my mom was strongly opinionated that we should help others. The choices I had as a kid was either to become a Buddhist monk or to become a doctor. My mom was a nurse and that helped shape my career.
What are you most proud of in your work at Huntsman Cancer Institute?
I'm really passionate about helping others. That is, I think, the driving force every day when I wake up and come to work. In taking care of the patients, I have learned how resilient you can be fighting this disease. Cancer is a life-changing diagnosis. I specifically chose this field so I can really make a difference. We have been able to open a lot of clinical research and clinical trials at the VA hospital. It is one of the bigger achievements—providing a lot more treatment options to veterans.