“ Make sure that you are part of your healthcare plan and that your clinicians acknowledge and accept that. We only get one life so fight like hell for it!
Dr. McEachron is another mAss Kicker using research to “Kick mAss”. Dr. McEachron is a Senior Post Doctorate fellow at the Translational Genomics Research Institute. Currently, he is focused on molecular genetic profiling of refractory and recurrent childhood, adolescent, and young adult cancers for clinical decision making in collaboration with Children’s Hospital of Orange County. He was a post-doctoral fellow at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dept of Developmental Neurobiology in Memphis, Tennessee. He earned his PhD in Molecular and Cellular Pathology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011. We are very honored to find time in his busy schedule and ask him a few questions.
mK: Thanks for doing this Dr. McEachron. First question, what is your relationship to tumors/cancer?
TM: I think that everyone has a relationship to cancer in some way. Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with cancer. Researching cancer is more than just a job/career, it’s one of my few passions. I love spending my time trying to understand the biology of this disease and attempting to find its vulnerabilities. At the same time, I hate the fact that patients and their families/friends still have to deal with this disease.
mK: Yeah, everyone is somehow affected by cancer. Why is research so important? What do you do?
TM: Novel therapies, mechanistic insight, innovative ideas, and new technologies are birthed in laboratories all over the world. This is what drives medical progress and breakthroughs. Needless to say, what happens in the lab needs to make its way over to the clinic to impact patients in real time. We are in an era in which clinical medicine and biomedical research are no longer distant strangers incapable of communicating. Both clinicians and researchers are working together to fight cancer. We are leveraging our respective strengths and intellects to put for the best options for patients.
My research program is split into two distinct yet complimentary aspects: 1) Molecular genetic profiling of relapsed/refractory pediatric, adolescent, and young adult cancer patients for clinical decision making; 2) Functional genomics approach to identify clinically relevant targets in pediatric/AYA Ewing sarcoma and rhabdomyosarcoma.
mK: What motivates you?
TM: Failure. We fail all the time. If you talk to most scientists they will jokingly give you a statistic that research is roughly 90% failure, the remainder being comprised of coffee, insanity, luck, politics, the phase of the moon, and/or determination. In all seriousness though, as scientists and clinicians we fail. The key is being able to learn from each of these failures. Allowing failure to expose a weakness that can then be addressed and hopefully improved upon is what really motivates me to keep going. At the end of it all, we owe it to the patients to operate in this fashion because when a patient dies of disease, it mustn’t be in vain. We need to have learned something from them so that we can do our best to use that experience and information to try to help the next person.
mK: Yeah, people fall all the time. It’s our duty as human beings to help them get back up! Who is your personal hero?
TM: First and most importantly is Jesus. My friend Blaine is my hero and inspiration. He was diagnosed with a glioblastoma and was initially given 6-months to live. That was 7 years ago! During this time he’s gone through so much in his personal life, not to mention his multiple craniotomies, chemotherapy, radiation, and all of the side effects associated with his therapy. Through it all, he has been the most positive and uplifting person. Now he’s a happily married man and still fighting his cancer with a wonderful woman by his side. When I’m having a tough time in lab or in life, I think about Blaine. I’m truly honored to have him as a friend. I love him dearly.
Lastly, and certainly not least, is the man or woman who thankfully gets up everyday and does whatever they can to positively impact someone else. Our world is a very busy and broken place and its very easy to live in our own personal bubbles where we can shield ourselves from the outside. These people who make it a point to engage others for the sole purpose of bringing about something as simple as a smile are truly remarkable.
mK: So true! There are so many people out there who are doing great things! What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
TM: My amazing wife makes me laugh all the time. Witnessing injustice or inequity makes me angry. There are plenty of things that make me cry, if I list them I may start to tear.
mK: Hee hee. We’ll give you a pass on the crying question. What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve ever done?
TM: That’s a really tough question. I can’t think of anything so I guess that makes me an uninteresting person.
mK: HAHAHA! Give yourself credit! You’ve done some pretty cool stuff! Based on what you’ve observed, what is the toughest challenge a survivor faces?
TM: Surviving. The diagnosis and treatment are just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lifetime (how ever long that may be) of having to live with the physical, mental, emotional, family, and social issues stemming from the cancer.
mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
TM: I like bacon. Also, I have ice cream almost every night.
mK: Have you heard of Bacon flavored ice cream? OK, here’s a tricky question for you… If you could learn one skill in the world without trying (like Matrix learning style), what would you pick?
TM: I don’t think I would pick anything. The fun is in the learning process!
mK: Good answer. “and knowing is half the battle.” What are you up to now?
TM: Listening to bluegrass and filling out the answers to your questions! Actually, I have just a few years left in my postdoctoral fellowship. During this time I’m trying to get as much work done as possible b/c I’d like to have my own lab and continue to use genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and epigenetics to thoroughly research pediatric and AYA cancers.
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
TM: Be your own advocate. Seek 2nd and 3rd opinions. Fight for the best therapy or the best institution that you access to. Make sure that you are part of your healthcare plan and that your clinicians acknowledge and accept that. We only get one life so fight like hell for it!
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know…
TM: I’m an avid skateboarder and was sponsored by a local skateshop all throughout high school. I am thoroughly fascinated by the Appalachian mountain culture and am I’m learning how to play the mountain dulcimer. My station list on Pandora includes Old Crow Medicine Show, the Avett Brothers, Johnny Cash, Talib Kweli, Common, John Coltrane, Mississippi John Hurt, Skrillex, Cruella, Doc Watson, Brad Paisley, Chris Tomlin, Mos Def, Nora Jones, Dixie Hummingbirds, T.I., Immortal Technique, Christy Nockels, Dixie Chicks, and Thelonious Monk.
I like rock climbing and hiking.
My dog is named after Johnny Cash. I almost went to culinary school to be a pastry chef rather than attend a 4-year university for college. The list kind of goes on and on.
mK: Cool. Very diverse! Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
TM: Love each other well and go out and kick some mAss!
Dr. Troy McEachron: Skater dude, Johnny Cash fan boy, outdoorsman, wanna-be-chef, an up and coming tumor/cancer researcher, bacon lover, driven scientist, and cool guy! Thanks for answering our questions Dr. McEachron. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on you because we’re expecting to hear more great research findings from you. Check out the Translational Genomics Research Institute and the Hyundai Cancer Institute.