In 2012, two weeks after Dr. Dustin Deming started his dream job treating and researching gastrointestinal cancers at UW Carbone Cancer Center, he was diagnosed with his specialty: colorectal cancer.
The cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, making his prognosis grim. Deming was 31, with a 3-year-old son and 6-week-old daughter. He had no family history of cancer.
After surgery and chemotherapy, he is doing well today, with a much better prognosis.
The ordeal has given him empathy with his patients and new urgency in his lab, where he focuses on trying to find targeted therapies for colorectal and pancreatic cancers.
“We need to develop better treatments for patients with cancer, and we need to do it now,” said Deming, 35. “Just because something could wait until next week doesn’t mean it should wait until next week.”
Mutations recognized today in colorectal cancers make the tumors resistant to certain treatments. If patients’ tumors have the mutations, doctors don’t use those drugs.
In his lab, Deming is studying patient tumor samples and mouse models, which have other kinds of genetic mutations, to see if drugs in development might work against colorectal or pancreas cancer.
“If we see that a particular mutation or patient population would benefit from a therapy, we want to prove that through clinic trials,” said Deming, who participates in UW Health’s new molecular tumor board.
Deming said he hasn’t had his own tumor genetically sequenced because that might tempt him to study his genetic type of cancer more than others. “I really want to focus on trying to treat as many patients’ cancer as I can, not just my own,” he said.
When treating his colorectal cancer patients, Deming said he can relate to the guilt some feel for putting off screening tests, as he did after his symptoms begin.
He’s willing to talk with patients about his ostomy, a permanent opening in his body that collects waste, after surgery removed about 15 percent of his colon.
“I can tell them that life does not end after having an ostomy,” he said.
Also, he said he better understands what patients want from him, after he put his own life in other doctors’ hands.
“I make sure they know I am on their side, and that I am honored to be part of the team taking care of them,” he said.