Meet our doctors: Anna Pawlowska on treating pediatric cancers

September 4, 2015 | by City of Hope

Going to medical school in her native Poland, Anna Pawlowska, M.D. wasn’t sure what field of medicine she wanted to study until her second year of residency. But after spending time with a pediatric oncologist, she knew that was the field for her.

“I wanted to be a pediatrician because the kids are really a central part of families and our life; they are the future of our society,” said Pawlowska, now director of the Pediatric Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation at City of Hope. When a child is diagnosed with cancer, she said, “it’s not just the child that’s involved, it’s the whole family, friends, teachers, neighbors, the church…the whole neighborhood is affected.”

She joined City of Hope in 2000, moving to California specifically for the opportunity to work at an institution with the atmosphere and approach that she considers ideal. She had already spent a year in Japan and had completed a pediatric residency at the University of Colorado and a fellowship and stint at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital’s hematology/oncology program.

At City of Hope, she found what she was seeking -- an environment “where we can serve our patients the best with utmost compassion.”

One of City of Hope’s great advantages is that many specialists from different fields are involved in patient care, said Pawlowska.

“We have a multi-disciplinary team, including social workers, psychologists, physical therapists, recreational therapists, and pet therapists, for example.“ This team is critical, she said, because to the patients and families coming in, the diagnosis of cancer has been a devastating shock.

“Their world has turned upside down, and we realize that this is the time when they need a lot of support,” she said. Once Pawlowska and the team work with the patients to develop a plan of action, “it’s easier for them to adjust and deal with the treatment because they know what’s happening. They know the diagnosis, they have information, they can ask questions and be a part of the plan.”

“I feel privileged to be involved in the lives of the families in their hardest times and also to share their courage, dedication and joy of cure.”

The focus of Pawlowska’s program – bone marrow transplantation – is reserved for the patients with very aggressive malignant diseases, offering a potential for cure that cannot be achieved by chemotherapy alone. Transplantaion also provides the potential to cure chronic, non-malignant diseases such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia. “Our pediatric Stem Cell Transplant Program allows the patients access to new, innovative, live saving treatments and provides excellent standard of care,” Pawlowska said.

Like many physicians at City of Hope, Pawlowska is determined to improve care nationwide, not only through her standard-setting work at the cancer center but through her impact on other institutions. She serves as an auditor, for example, for the Children’s Oncology Group, a national organization that focuses on pediatric cancer treatment. “I audit different hospitals and their clinical trials, making sure the patients are safe and that the clinical trials are conducted properly,” she said.

Pawlowska also serves as the chair of the Data Safety Monitoring Committee at City of Hope, which helps ensure patient safety in the clinical trials that ultimately advance care for all patients.

In her precious spare time, Pawlowska takes advantage of the numerous activities California provides, including biking and visiting museums. “I love reading and doing anything with water, like snorkeling,” she said, laughing. “I could live under the water for a long time.”

Categories : Patient Care

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