Radiation Oncologist Brings Advanced Cancer Care to Tanzania

Stanley Liauw, MD, will travel with 10 other radiation oncologists to Tanzania later this month as part of a group called Radiating Hope, a non-profit volunteer team of mountain climbers focused on cancer care.

Their first objective is to climb the highest mountain in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet). But their ultimate mission is to set up a cancer center in the nearby town of Moshi.

Liauw is trying to raise funds for the trip through a project on crowdfunding site GoFundMe called Climbing for Cancer.

He spoke to UChicago Cancer Conversations about his association with Radiating Hope, mountain climbing and bringing needed cancer treatment to Africa.

Q: How did you become involved with Radiating Hope?

A: I have always had an interest in the mission to improve health care in underserved areas, but had never quite found the time or right opportunity to get involved. I came to know about Radiating Hope through a good friend of mine who is on the board of the organization. We have traveled together frequently and he invited me to participate in the next mission. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve learned about this small organization. It’s non-profit and volunteer run by a core of very dedicated people who are passionate about improving health care globally (and climbing!).

Stanley Liauw, MD, with his wife, Kapila Kalakota, MD, also a radiation oncologist, at Yellowstone.

Q: Is there some affinity between mountain climbers and cancer fighting?

A: Well, perhaps there are some analogies that we can draw between the two. For example, cancer therapy can be a long, spiritual journey for patients, which some may also find with climbing a mountain. It’s a difficult journey, but when you succeed, there is a huge sense of accomplishment and meaning. On the other end of it, those of us who treat cancer would love to ‘summit’ and conquer cancer for good.

Q: Is there sufficient infrastructure in Moshi to handle radiation therapy services on an ongoing basis?

A:There is a 450 bed tertiary referral hospital in Moshi called KCMC (Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre) that serves an area of 11 million people. However, there is no cancer center and those who require radiation therapy must travel to the capital, which is currently the only radiation facility in the country and a 7.5 hour drive away. Grounds have been acquired to place a cancer center next to KCMC. Provisions are still being made to build a cancer center. Currently, Radiating Hope is partnering with a major vendor of linear accelerators (Varian) to build the center. Varian is expected to choose the hospital in KCMC as a model site to run an international “Access to care” program to provide ongoing technical support and training.

Q: Is there something about radiation therapy that will bring more good to Tanzania than other types of therapy?

A:The majority of cancer-related deaths worldwide occur in low- and middle-income countries, and cancer is a leading cause of death in Tanzania. In the U.S., it is estimated that up to 66% of all cancer patients receive a course of radiation therapy – with either curative or palliative intent. Because the treatment relies on technology and often requires many days to complete, underserved areas cannot provide this service to patients in need. Providing this therapy to citizens of Tanzania can go a long ways towards helping to improve survival and alleviate suffering.

Q: What do the funds help support?

A: One of the primary goals of this trip is to establish a cancer center in Tanzania. The funds raised by each of the climbers will go towards the building and support of this center. Because the organization is volunteer run, funds can go directly towards improving access to care in the Greater Horn of Africa.

Q: What training are you/have you been doing?

A: I’m really not much of a climber, but do enjoy trying to keep fit and traveling to see wonders of the world, so I am excited about this trip. For training, my wife and I have been trying to hit the gym 4 days a week. I have developed a close relationship as of late with the StairMaster 7000.

Q: Where’s your next climb after Kilimanjaro?

A: We haven’t yet looked that far ahead. Will let you know when that time comes!

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