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Cancer care from Downeast to Far East and Back

March 6, 2012

Cancer care from Bangor to Mount Desert Island would not be where it is today without Philip Brooks, MD, a medical oncologist and hematologist who helped found Cancer Care of Maine and developed and expanded oncology programs at MDI Hospital, Ellsworth and elsewhere in the region. Now the same can be said about cancer care in China, the country, not the town in Maine, from where Dr. Brooks has recently returned after creating a western or international-style oncology center in Beijing.

“I loved what I was doing but I was looking for a little change,” Dr. Brooks said. Originally, he thought a one year sabbatical was what he was looking for when the opportunity was presented to establish China’s first outpatient oncology center.  Two and a half years later Dr. Brooks is back in Maine, seeing patients at MDI Hospital, and relishing his China experience. “I’ve always had a yearning to live in a big city with a completely different culture,” he said. There are few cities in the world with populations larger than Beijing’s nearly 20 million people and even fewer with historical and cultural resources as vast and dissimilar from Maine.

In concert with building an oncology center at Beijing United Family Hospital, Dr. Brooks also served as vice president of medical affairs, overseeing medical operations at hospitals in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. This life affirming and professionally enriching experience enabled him to travel throughout China and Asia and immerse himself in the medical and cultural communities of the world’s most populous nation. “My wife (Astri) became a master of Beijing,” navigating the city on a bicycle, a mode of transportation that can be faster, albeit more adventurous, than traveling by car.

With frequent language tutoring and lots of practice, Dr. Brooks said he learned to speak Chinese well enough to “kibitz with taxi drivers” and deliver opening remarks in professional presentations in his hosts’ native tongue.

In addition to his expertise in developing outpatient cancer care, Dr. Brooks was also called upon as an expert and appeared on CNN and Chinese national television to help temper the near panic in China following the nuclear accident in Japan caused by the earthquake and tsunami and to manage the response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic.

Beijing United Family Hospital and Clinics (BJU) is the first international-standard full-service hospital and the first foreign-invested hospital to operate in China. According to Dr. Brooks, BJU patients included international foreign residents and visitors plus native Chinese who are seeking care that follows the international model, which is one of the most rewarding aspects of his tenure in China.

In traditional Chinese practice, chemotherapy is delivered in large, 1,000-bed inpatient hospitals. “What we do in three hours, it is not uncommon for them to stay in the hospital for seven days,” Dr. Brooks said. “It was totally unknown to be seen at an outpatient center. It took a huge leap of faith for them.” The outpatient experience in a comfortable, inviting setting, according to Dr. Brooks, offers patients the opportunity to better manage the psychological impact of their illness by not taking them from their everyday routine and reduces their exposure to potentially harmful bacterial infections associated with lengthy hospital stays.

After two and half years in the Far East and the birth of a grandchild back in the United States, the Brooks’ decided it was time to move back Downeast, specifically to Bar Harbor.  Dr. Brooks has resumed seeing oncology patients at MDI Hospital, Blue Hill and Ellsworth and is affiliated with Cancer Care of Maine.

MDI Hospital offers complete outpatient chemotherapy and hematology services in a personal and comfortable setting. To learn more about MDI Hospital’s oncology services, call 288-5081.


Posted in 2012