A Pediatric Oncologist Explains Why He Braves the Shave

by Tom McLean, M.D.
February 16, 2015

Dr. Tom McLean helps kids with cancer as a pediatric oncologist and a seven-time shavee℠. Read about why he does what he does.

Dr. Tom McLean braves the shave

Dr. Tom McLean braves the shave at a St. Baldrick’s event.

I am a pediatric oncologist. When I tell people what I do for a living, I often get a grimace or pained look in reply. People will say, “I don’t see how you can do what you do,” or “That must be so hard.” I even get that response from other physicians.

Well, it is hard, some days. But not most. If you were to visit our clinic or hospital unit, on most days you’d hear laughter and see children playing. You’d see art being created and music played.

You see, children with cancer usually do quite well — much better than grownups. Fifty years ago, children with cancer were rarely cured. Today, about four out of five children with cancer can expect to be cured.

That is amazing medical progress, but it still means that, sadly, one out of five children with cancer are not cured.

What I Wish I Knew About Childhood Cancer

A child’s death is undoubtedly the worst part about my job. But of course my worst days are nothing compared to what my patients and their families go through for months and years — even the ones who do well. They endure setbacks and nausea and low blood counts and hair loss and remissions and failed remissions.

We do not know why some patients’ cancer is so stubborn, so resistant to treatment, while others respond beautifully, never to recur. But we are working on it. Every year, our treatments get a little better. One day, we hope to cure all children with cancer.

Want to learn more about childhood cancer? Check out this infographic >

So why am I a pediatric oncologist? I am a pediatric oncologist because we are able to cure four out of five kids with cancer. But also because we do not cure one out of five kids with cancer. My colleagues and I will continue to work to cure until we can cure them all. And thanks to charities like St. Baldrick’s, we are able to keep inching toward that goal.

That goal is why I have my head shaved every year at a local St. Baldrick’s event. If you’ve never been to one, I encourage you to check it out. You’ll experience laughter (the best medicine!), camaraderie, and likely some art and music. You’ll get a taste of what it’s like in a pediatric oncology clinic.

And if you really want to make a difference, sponsor someone who is having his or her head shaved, or — even better — be a shavee yourself.

How will YOU make a difference for kids with cancer?

Read more on the St. Baldrick’s blog: