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More than medicine: A family member's experience with cancer influenced the direction of Judson's career

When she was a medical student, Patricia Judson, M.D., was leaning toward a career in perinatal genetics and maternal-fetal medicine. Then in 1992—the year she graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School—her father was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Patricia Judson, M.D.

“It made me realize how important oncologists are,” says Judson, now a gynecologic oncologist and an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women’s Health. “Despite the fact that my father’s oncologist couldn’t do much for him clinically, what he did for my father and our family emotionally was huge.”

For one, he influenced Judson’s philosophy about a physician’s role, which in her view is not just about curing illness. Judson believes that caring for patients includes enhancing quality of life during therapy and giving hope.

“Gynecologic oncology is a wonderful specialty that incorporates both surgery and medical aspects of oncology,” she says. “Many patients can be cured with surgery alone, others require additional therapy with radiation and chemotherapy. In some cases, despite these aggressive therapies, the patient is still not cured.

“It’s hard,” she adds, “because it’s a very fine line between giving someone hope and helping them face the reality of death and dying. You have to be honest and sometimes say, ‘We may not be able to extend your life, but the quality of life is so important. Do you want me to give you chemo and make you feel sick, when you could feel a little better and spend some quality time with your family and friends?’”

Quality of life figures prominently in Judson’s research, including one current study examining what effects complementary therapies—therapeutic massage, healing touch, and hypnosis—might have on ovarian cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy.

Judson acknowledges that it’s tougher to get funding for research that’s outside theWestern medicine box. But she says some complementary therapies show real promise.

Her other active research includes a study on endometrial cancer and a collaboration with the University of Oklahoma examining vulvar cancer in young women.

Judson’s father died 15 years ago, soon after his diagnosis. She’s quite sure he would be proud of her work today.

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