Ded­i­cated doc­tor hon­ored for six decades of ser­vice Pi­o­neer­ing lung can­cer spe­cial­ist sees help­ing pa­tients as her great­est re­ward

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By HE QI in Shang­hai heqi@chi­

Liao Meilin has wit­nessed and di­rectly con­trib­uted to the rapid devel­op­ment of lung can­cer treat­ments in China over the past six decades.

The 84-year-old doc­tor, one of the most rep­utable ex­perts in her field, said there is no greater re­ward than hav­ing seen lung can­cer — once a near-cer­tain death sen­tence in China — be­come more like a chronic dis­ease.

De­spite her age, she con­tin­ues to work at the Shang­hai Chest Hos­pi­tal twice a week, and was re­cently pre­sented with the Shang­hai Mag­no­lia Med­i­cal Women Achieve­ment Award in recog­ni­tion of her ded­i­ca­tion.

The prize is given an­nu­ally by the Shang­hai Med­i­cal Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion to fe­male doc­tors age 70 and older who are still ac­tive on the front line of medicine. Seven doc­tors won the award this year, and Liao was the old­est.

“Cu­rios­ity about medicine and the trust of pa­tients make me keep on work­ing,” she said.

Liao holds a clinic ev­ery Mon­day and Tues­day. She in­sists on see­ing no more than 10 pa­tients in each ses­sion and en­cour­ages other doc­tors to do the same.

“If you don’t fully un­der­stand a pa­tient, you can­not find the most ap­pro­pri­ate treat­ment,” Liao said, adding that she be­lieves com­mu­ni­ca­tion of­fers pa­tients psy­chother­apy, which is as im­por­tant as med­i­cal treat­ment.

Liao sees her cu­rios­ity as her most im­por­tant char­ac­ter­is­tic, as it has kept her ex­plor­ing and study­ing new top­ics to con­trib­ute to lung can­cer re­search.

She has worked at the same hos­pi­tal for over 60 years and helped count­less pa­tients. Many have be­come her friends and rely on her emo­tion­ally. They come to the hos­pi­tal and ask Liao for help on health prob­lems that are not nec­es­sar­ily re­lated to their lung can­cer.

Liao said the best part of her job is see­ing how much med­i­cal science has de­vel­oped.

“We used to con­sider a fiveyear sur­vival pe­riod for can­cer pa­tients to be good, but now ev­ery doc­tor has many pa­tients who live more than 15 years,” she said.

Ac­cord­ing to data re­leased by the Na­tional Can­cer Cen­ter in Fe­bru­ary last year, about 10,000 peo­ple are di­ag­nosed with can­cer ev­ery day across the coun­try, and lung can­cer has the high­est rates of mor­bid­ity and mor­tal­ity.

How­ever, Liao said the mor­bid­ity rate for male lung can­cer pa­tients is show­ing a slightly de­creas­ing trend, while that of women re­mains sta­ble, which means there is a greater fo­cus on fe­males.

Liao’s fa­ther was a pro­fes­sor of elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing at Shang­hai Jiao Tong Univer­sity, and she had planned to fol­low in his foot­steps. But af­ter his death from an un­ex­pected stroke, she de­cided to study medicine.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from med­i­cal school in 1957, Liao was as­signed to the Shang­hai Chest Hos­pi­tal to work for the de­part­ment of in­ter­nal medicine. In the decades that fol­lowed, she be­came in­ter­ested in lung can­cer, an in­creas­ingly preva­lent yet rel­a­tively ne­glected dis­ease in the coun­try at that time.

Feel­ing her pro­fes­sional knowl­edge to be in­suf­fi­cient, in the early 1980s, Liao, then nearly 50, ap­plied to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion for fund­ing to study res­pi­ra­tory medicine at McMaster Univer­sity in Canada.

Af­ter 14 months of in­ten­sive study, Liao re­turned to China in 1984. With her newly gained knowl­edge and skills, she be­came the first doc­tor in the coun­try to pro­pose a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment strat­egy for small cell lung can­cer, and pi­o­neered the com­pre­hen­sive di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment of the dis­ease in China. More­over, she has pub­lished more than 200 pa­pers in China and over­seas.

“Liao is a re­spon­si­ble and per­sis­tent per­son. Ev­ery day she in­sists on read­ing CT slices that she doesn’t need to”, such as those of for­mer pa­tients col­lected for re­search pur­poses, said Jian Hong, a col­league of Liao for more than 30 years. “She uses them as re­sources for re­search and teach­ing young doc­tors.”

Be­cause of Liao’s great con­tri­bu­tion to lung can­cer di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment, she has gained many ti­tles, in­clud­ing hon­orary chair­man of the China So­ci­ety for Clin­i­cal On­col­ogy’s col­lab­o­ra­tive pro­fes­sion­als com­mit­tee and deputy di­rec­tor of the China Anti-Can­cer As­so­ci­a­tion’s lung can­cer pro­fes­sion­als com­mit­tee.

Yet she said none of the hon­ors com­pares with see­ing and treat­ing pa­tients: “I’ll keep on help­ing pa­tients as long as my phys­i­cal con­di­tion al­lows,” she added.

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