“ It is important to know your diagnosis, know your treatment, and know that you can’t let your diagnosis define you.
Dr. Graham Lubinsky is a young brain tumor survivor turned physician. We met Dr. Lubinsky years ago at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Irvine, California where he was a brain tumor research assistant before he went to medical school. In 2005, he graduated from the University of California, San Diego. After earning a Masters Degree from Boston University, he went to medical school at Michigan State University in Grand Rapids. He is currently an Anesthesia Resident at George Washington University Hospital. He has held numerous leadership positions where he has worked and gone to school. He conducts research in pain medicine, infectious disease, neurosurgery, and oncology. We were very fortunate to reconnect with him, and ask him a few questions.
mK: Thanks for doing this Dr. Lubinsky! Great to reconnect with you! How did you find out about your diagnosis?
GL: I was at football practice a week before sophomore year of high school; we were going through two-a-day practices and I was feeling ill, but chalked it up to the heat and being out of shape. One the first day of padded practice, I got hit during a drill and went down. I had difficulty getting up, dizziness, and vision changes. The trainer called my father (a pediatric ICU physician) to come pick me up and after a quick physical exam, he told me that my symptoms didn’t fit a concussion. After an hour or so, he took me to the local hospital for a CT scan just to be sure… and that’s when they saw it, a right parietal lobe pilocytic astrocytoma.
mK: Wow! What were your symptoms?
GL: Throughout my childhood, I had intermittent symptoms consistent with increased intracranial pressure: morning emesis, dizzy spells, etc. However, they would never last long enough to warrant a thorough investigation.
mK: They are definitely tough to diagnosis because there is no definitive cost-effective test and brain tumor symptoms mimic other diagnoses. What kind of medicine do you want to practice?
GL: I am a second-year anesthesiology resident at George Washington University Hospital. I am currently trying to decide on what fellowship to pursue.
mK: Exciting! In your opinion, what is the most efficient way to fight cancer as a patient?
GL: Knowledge. It is important to know your diagnosis, know your treatment, and know that you can’t let your diagnosis define you.
mK: Since you know what it’s like to be a patient, what advice would you give healthcare professionals when working with a newly diagnosed oncology patient?
GL: Like most diagnoses, the initial news will be shocking and people’s innate response is to shut down, but you can’t let them. As with any bad news, it is going to take people time to process what they have been told, but they need to know they are not alone. There is an increasing number of amazing peer support groups for cancer. No matter how isolated, alone, and helpless they feel, there are other people out there that have experienced the same and are willing to help.
mK: So, what motivates you?
GL: Knowing that the better I become as a person and physician, the more people I can help.
mK: Who is your personal hero or are your heroes?
GL: As a kid? He-Man. I would run around with a He-Man sword tucked in my shirt, pull it out, and yell “By the power of Greyskull”… usually wearing some combination of red shirt and green shorts (which my younger brother later dubbed my ‘frog in a blender style’).
As I progress in my career? My father. With each passing day, I realize the amount of time and effort he put into his career, not for personal accolades, but so he can help children overcome their illness and lead fulfilling lives.
mK: Fathers serve as great role models (although He-Man is pretty cool too). What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
GL: Laugh – The ridiculous situations I find myself in on a daily basis. Cry – Onions. I am incapable of cooking with them without tearing up. Angry – When people take the easy way out to the detriment of others.
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve ever done?
GL: At the age of 12, I flew the Goodyear blimp.
mK: Cool! What is the toughest challenge a survivor faces?
GL: Trying to get back to their routine, when things are not as they were. Prior to my diagnosis/treatment, I had a borderline eidetic memory; I never had to study. I would hear/read/see something once and I knew it. After my diagnosis/treatment, I had some struggles in school. My reading comprehension was atrocious and in college I actually had to take classes on how to study, because it was a new thing for me and I couldn’t rely on my memory.
mK: Yeah, there is definitely an adjustment period for cognitive changes after any procedure on the brain. Had to google “eidetic memory”… Besides using cool words, what is your guilty pleasure?
mK: HAHAHA! OK, here’s a tough question for… If you could determine the next major physical adaptation in human evolution, what would it be? Like an extra hand or more efficient use of the brain (like the movie Lucy with Scarlett Johansen…)
GL: Well this question came out of nowhere… the nerd in me wants to say bio-enhancement. When I read this question, my first through was the movie Johnny Mnemonic with Keanu Reeves. Wow, that was a terrible movie… not Tom Green – Freddy Got Fingered terrible… but pretty awful stuff.
mK: Wow, those movies were pretty bad… What is next on your agenda?
GL: Figuring out what subspecialty of anesthesiology I want to pursue. Getting my research projects off the ground. Learning how to stop thinking about work when I’m not at work.
mK: Good luck! Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
GL: It’s not the end, it’s just a new beginning.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
GL: I enjoy rollerblading. It’s tough to admit that openly… but people that know me from my middle school/high school years know that I used to play hockey for factory sponsored travel teams, high school hockey, and adult league hockey.
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
GL: Always remember that you are not alone.
Dr. Graham Lubinsky: Roller Hockey Goon, Bad movie addict, Goodyear Blimp Pilot, weeping chef, He-Man poseur, pediatric brain tumor survivor turned physician, and fun dude! Good luck with the rest of your residency! Thank for being a great example of what young brain tumor survivors can still achieve!