September Jay Fund Hero: Dr. Eric Sandler

Today’s Jay Fund Hero – Dr. Eric Sandler

His personal experience as the parent of a child with cancer gives today’s Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Hero a special understanding of what families go through as they travel the cancer journey.  Meet Dr. Eric Sandler, Chief of Pediatric Oncology and Hematology at Nemours in Jacksonville, Florida.  It wasn’t that long ago when he was faced with asking himself a question he’s heard all too many times from his own patients.   Doc, what treatment would you give my child if she were your own?

Father to a then 3 year old daughter diagnosed with leukemia, Dr. Sandler was still a relative newbie, both as a father and as an oncologist. “But I learned little tricks, like trying never to prescribe a medication that needs to be taken four times a day, because that’s so hard for a kid. I know everything you can mix bad-tasting medicine with. I recommend chocolate milk for liquid medicines. Crushing pills into chocolate pudding or chocolate ice cream also worked for us.

I encourage [parents] to enroll their child in a clinical trial. That’s what we did with Alyssa’s first cancer. With her relapse, we didn’t, but that was only because there wasn’t one open at that time. Clinical trials are so important because childhood cancer is very rare — only 10,000 to 12,000 or so kids will be diagnosed with any type of cancer this year. It’s much harder to research new drugs for kids than to study drugs for women with breast cancer, for example, because there are hundreds of thousands of breast-cancer patients available for testing.”

He added, “I don’t tell patients about Alyssa, but by the second visit, they all seem to know. I guess someone on the staff must tell them. My family likes to think that it’s all behind us now. But cancer is always in the back of your mind, and there are no guarantees. So I really understand how frightened parents are when they talk to me. And I understand how they worry.

Dr. Sandler is a compassionate person, beyond the bedside, as he continues to battle pediatric cancer on behalf of his patients.  Just a couple of weeks ago, Dr. Sandler joined Mongolia Bound for a second time in honor of his patient, Jonathan Soud.  Jonathan’s father explains, “I was in the hospital room holding Jonathan’s hand that early September afternoon when Jonathan told Dr. Sandler that he was interested in Mongolia and Dr. Sandler replied, ‘Mongolia.  I’ve always wanted to go to Mongolia.’  The day Jonathan passed away I told Dr. Sandler that we needed to make Mongolia happen, but I hadn’t the slightest intention of going myself.  Months later, I came to Nemours to meet with Dr. Sandler and discuss plans for what was supposed to be his trip to Mongolia.  At that meeting he looked across his desk and said to me, ‘Maybe you should think about going; it could be part of your healing process.’  Tears welled into my eyes, and at that moment.  I knew that I had to go.

In Mongolia, Dr. Sandler and his team worked tirelessly with the hospital staff and came away with a greater appreciation for what the medical staff there can accomplish with such limitations.  “The doctors have very little training (a H/O fellowship is 6 months) and even fewer resources. The list of drugs that they have to treat the patients is so limited and forever changing. All decisions about purchasing of drugs from manufacturers is made by the Ministry of health and the physicians and pharmacy submit a list annually, but have very little say in what is actually made available. Other medications must be purchased by the patient themselves and brought to the hospital. Still others (like dactinomycin), the family has to travel to Bejing to purchase the drug and bring it back to treat their child.

It was a journey that began as a conversation with Jonathan, and has led to two trips and numerous remissions for children in Mongolia.  Read more about Dr. Sandler’s most recent trip to Mongolia here.

Dr. Sandler is a hero well beyond the support he provides to Nemours, his family and the Jay Fund. Dr. Sandler has BEEN THERE and he continues to BE THERE for the countless families he impacts on a daily basis.  

Donate to the Jay Fund in honor of Dr. Eric Sandler or in honor of your hero!  Every dollar makes a difference, when a family is tackling childhood cancer.