Every month, we feature a provider as an opportunity for the community to learn more about the great people on staff at Little Company of Mary Hospital. This month, we had the chance to talk with Azhar Awan, M.D., medical director of Radiation Oncology at the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center at Little Company of Mary Hospital (2800 West 95th Street, Evergreen Park). Get to know Dr. Awan, including why he became a physician and his philosophy of care:
Why did you decide to become a physician?
- At the age of 11, after experiencing sharp pains in the right side of my lower abdomen, I was taken to a hospital and was told I needed surgery. I was frightened but the surgeon assured me all would be well. After the surgery, I was shown something in a glass jar that the surgeon said was my appendix and the source of the pain. Fascinated by the surgeon’s ability to both diagnose and treat me, I was determined to one day become a physician so I could help individuals like he helped me.
How did you choose your specialty?
- I was struggling to decide between a few areas of specialty. However, Radiation Oncology was an emerging field at the time.I was thrilled to learn that it was a discipline that required knowledge and application of both physics and mathematics, two of my favorite subjects throughout high school and college. Furthermore, it is a field where I can make a significant impact on a patient’s life, not only through treatment that can be curative, but also by providing significant palliation of cancer symptoms.
What is your philosophy of care?
- My philosophy of care includes establishing a transparent relationship between physician and patient. It is essential that the patient remains informed about his/her condition and corresponding treatment plan. I always provide an honest assessment of the patient’s condition and prognosis with compassion and concern. It is not only my duty to treat my patients, but to support them along every step along their cancer journey. I am honest and transparent with my patients, and whenever I feel that treatment may lead to more harm than good, I inform patients of such. In addition, I always encourage my patients to get a second opinion if they have any doubts or concerns about my recommendations.
What do you look forward to the most in working with the patients at the Evergreen Park campus?
- I hope to provide excellent care to patients in a patient-friendly community setting, while maintaining the rigorous standards of a tertiary care cancer center.
Tell us about some of the latest radiation oncology services and treatments modalities offered at the Center, including the new Philips Brilliance Big Bore CT?
- The new Philips Brilliance Big Bore CT simulator is the latest state-of –the –art piece of equipment that was recently commissioned at the Center in January. This scanner allows for the acquisition of CT imaging in 4-D. The fourth dimension includes evaluation of organ motion as related to the respiratory cycle. The tumor movement during the respiratory cycle is assessed and treatment planning is then tailored to ensure that the target is adequately covered by the planned radiation dose. We also offer Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) with image guidance using cone beam CT scans (CBCT) in addition to Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT), which delivers a very high dose of radiation to a small tumor target within the body in three to five sessions and Stereotactic Radiation Therapy (SRT).which can be used to treat small brain lesions.
What is the number one advice / tip you give your patients?
- My most important advice to all my patients is to remain positive throughout their course of treatment. Cancer is a tremendous battle that is both physically and emotionally exhausting. Remaining positive allows patients to effectively evaluate their options and persistently battle their illness. I have found that patients with a positive attitude have a better treatment outcome, even when their prognosis pre-treatment was deemed poor.
If you hadn’t become a physician, what would you be doing?
- Most likely, I still would be working in a field that was related in some ways to patient care. Biomedical Engineering comes to mind as an area related to the medical field and a discipline that also requires applications of physics and mathematics. Another option might have been a career in the pharmaceutical industry.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of the office?
- My hobbies and interests include fitness, travel, gardening and wild life documentaries. I was born in Kenya and never tire of watching nature and animal shows on the National Geographic Wild cable channel. If I’m not traveling abroad or on holiday, my typical weekday evenings in summer include working in the garden before dinner. I also enjoy taking care of and playing with our four cats.