Dr. Shivani Duggal knew she wanted to work in women’s health and found herself drawn to the challenging field of breast surgical oncology.
Dr. Subarna Eisaman was interested in understanding the mechanism of cancer and realized she also wanted to help patients in a clinical setting.
Dr. Mark Pajeau was reaching a turning point in his career as a molecular biologist working in agriculture when he decided to change direction and bring his expertise to
The three are now part of the region’s medical community that is helping patients battle breast cancer.
Duggal is the newest addition to Somerset Hospital’s Somerset Surgical Services group, seeing patients each Thursday from offices in the Wheeler Family Medical Center, 126 E. Church St.
Eisaman joined the radiation oncology staff at UPMC Cancer Center, John P. Murtha Pavilion, 337 Somerset St., Johnstown.
Pajeau arrived in Johnstown in March as part of Conemaugh Cancer Care Center’s medical oncology team, with Drs. Ibrihim Sbeitan and William Wynert.
Although specializing in cancer care brings the three doctors in contact with patients at all stages of the devastating disease, they say the field is rewarding because they are able to give patients hope.
“When people go into medicine, their goal is to help people,” Pajeau said. “In cancer care – particularly with breast cancer – you take a potentially deadly disease and you make it curable.
“You have a very significant impact on their lives.”
Eisaman says cancer care has shown her the resiliency of patients.
“The best of humanity does come out in the most adverse circumstances,” Eisaman said.
“You see in most people the best traits of humanity: Neighbors take care of neighbors; family members take care of older family members.”
Although they work in different specialties at different facilities, Pajeau and Eisaman share an interest and background in molecular biology, which examines life, anatomy and disease at the most basic level.
Pajeau worked for several years in Monsanto Co.’s program to improve corn production through genetic engineering.
About the time that he saw that he would have to either pursue a doctoral degree in molecular biology or change careers, he
helped conduct a clinical trial through Northwestern University in Illinois.
“I would interact with the patients after they talked to the doctor,” Pajeau said, adding that he began to appreciate the personal interaction that is at the heart of patient care.
He also got a glimpse the emotional state of cancer patients and their understanding of their disease, treatment and follow-up.
“It gave me insight into what happens after the doctor leaves the room,” he said.
The experience led to additional training in psychiatry as part of his preparation to become a medical oncologist.
“They would be emotional and depressed,” Pajeau said. “They would stop eating and have trouble sleeping. With psychiatry, you can provide a lot of support.”
Their education in molecular biology helps Pajeau and Eisaman keep up with the latest research and allows them to share advances with local patients.
“I wanted to have the tools to understand the literature and papers,” Eisaman said. “I can be a translator of complicated, evidence-based research into layman’s terms.”
Molecular biology research has already identified several gene abnormalities that accelerate cancer, leading to the development of less-toxic, targeted drug therapy, Pajeau said, predicting the cures for cancer will come through similar advances.
“That’s the future,” he said. “You will just be hearing more and more about new drugs that are not as toxic.”
Three physicians bring expertise to region
Dr. Mark Pajeau, Conemaugh Cancer Center
Medical School: University of Illinois at Rockford.
Specialized training: University of Virginia, Charlottesville; West Virginia University, Morgantown.
Pajeau says Johnstown is an ideal size: big enough to support a world-class cancer center while still maintaining a small-city atmosphere.
“It is more congenial than living in a big city, and the logistics of getting around are better,” he said.
Johnstown’s proximity to Pittsburgh and other major metropolitan areas provides his family with the opportunity for big-city experiences.
“But you don’t really do that every day,”
Dr. Shivani Duggal, Somerset Hospital
Medical school: Ohio University College of Osteopathy
Specialty training: Summa Health Systems, Akron, Ohio; Susan G. Komen Foundation at Allegheny General Hospital.
Duggal splits her schedule between Somerset Hospital, Allegheny General Hospital and Canonsburg General Hospital. Although she admits the traveling can be tedious, she feels enriched from her experience with a variety of communities.
“I get to see a different population everywhere I go,” Duggal said. “Most women are very grateful to see a specialist.”
Duggal sees her role as coordinator of care for her patients as they move through
diagnosis, initial treatment and ongoing therapy.
Dr. Subarna Eisaman, UPMC Cancer Center
Medical school: Penn State University College of Medicine at Hershey.
Specialized training: Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center; Tufts Medical Center, Boston.
Eisaman said the local patient population was the biggest attraction when she was being recruited to Johnstown.
“I think it is a wonderful place to work,” Eisaman said. “Everybody is very welcoming. They are generally very honest and happy that you are helping them. I feel that I am making a difference.”
Randy Griffith covers health care for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.