Elizabeth Neil, MD, is in a tough field—but she has plenty of reasons for hope.
Neil is a neuro-oncologist with University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care. She treats brain cancer patients and finds new ways to battle malignant brain tumors. Though recent medical advancements have helped in the fight against other cancer types, brain cancers remain difficult to treat.
That’s because they are often located in inaccessible or hard-to-reach parts of the brain, which makes surgery to remove the tumors difficult. The blood-brain barrier—the brain’s own natural defense system—also reduces the effectiveness of many cancer-fighting drugs.
“The prognosis for the more malignant brain tumors is poor, and we just need better treatments,” Neil said. “Many potential treatments haven’t been tested yet. The search for different treatment options—or even a cure—motivates me.”
We asked Neil to tell us more about her work treating such difficult diseases, her passion for neuro-oncology and the importance of being a patient advocate.
I first started working with brain cancer patients during my neurology residency. I immediately recognized that these people represented a very special patient population. Developing close patient-physician relationships and helping people as they cope with an overwhelming and discouraging time in their lives is very fulfilling for me. Becoming a neuro-oncologist just fit with my personality and the way I wanted to practice medicine. I believe that it is important to be compassionate, understanding and an excellent listener while I’m in the clinic. I’m also a dedicated clinical researcher collaborating with like-minded professionals who are also striving for a cure for brain cancer. That combination of roles is very gratifying.
Since becoming a board certified neuro-oncologist, there have been difficult days. However, I am reminded of the words of my mentor; “You cannot change a diagnosis, you can only change the way your patients live with the disease.” I’ve been lucky to become a part of my patients’ and their family’s lives. It’s a real honor to help care for them.