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In a sense, Dana-Farber's Nadine Jackson McCleary, MD, MPH, was in training for a medical career before she even realized it.
As a child, after her mother finished each shift as an intensive care nurse, Jackson McCleary would sit and listen to her describe cases that she'd had that day, what she thought about them, and what she'd learned.
"It just became a part of what I knew - our 'normal,'" recalls Jackson McCleary with a joyful chuckle.
"Spending weekends visiting elders from our church was also part of our routine. I was at someone's house every week, volunteering and helping out. I think I've always had this desire to take care of older people."
Fast forward through years of candy striping, nursing, and medical school, and Jackson McCleary, 33, has found a way at Dana-Farber to maintain this passion while also satisfying her natural curiosity through clinical and research work involving gastrointestinal cancers.
Gastrointestinal oncology focuses on abnormalities of the digestive system, such as the colon, esophagus, liver, pancreas, and stomach. It's a field where cancer is more prevalent and increasingly diagnosed in older patients.
"There is so much about cancer that we still need to figure out," says Jackson McCleary, a native Floridian who joined Dana-Farber's faculty last summer.
"If you're at an academic center like this, you are surrounded by people who are curious, who are not satisfied with the status quo, and who want to push things forward. I want to be a part of that."
In her health outcomes research, which is focused primarily on analyzing statistical data, Jackson McCleary hopes to answer the question: How do we take better care of older cancer patients?
Treating this population is often more difficult, because older adults usually have more preexisting conditions (and medications) that doctors need to consider.
Jackson McCleary says one of the biggest roles doctors in her field can play is that of counselor. She's often called upon to give advice on how patients can maintain a high quality of life - no matter their age.
"Most people have something they always wanted to do or accomplish, a special trip or experience, that they have put off for years," says Jackson McCleary. "We find ways for patients to do those things without it interrupting their treatment.
"We help people live with cancer the best way they can," she adds, "but we're still going for cures."
Paths of Progress Spring/Summer 2010 Table of Contents