I grew up in South Africa, mostly in Natal and Cape Town, and that is where I completed my veterinary studies at the University of Pretoria.
I have always been interested in medicine, both human medicine and veterinary medicine. Our family had several dogs and cats over the years and I usually went along on the veterinary visits. Our veterinarian, Dr. Joubert Viljoen, was a newly-minted small animal veterinarian when we first met. He was outgoing, inspiring and loved his work. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time volunteering with him in the clinic, and still feel grateful for his encouraging my interest in veterinary medicine.
In South Africa, unlike the United States, veterinary school is a six year program in which students engage in one year of general university, and then enter veterinary school as a second year student. However, I chose to complete a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture first, and then enter veterinary school.
It wasn't until my last year at veterinary school that I knew I wanted to become a surgeon. After graduation, I spent two years in general practice with Bryanston Veterinary Hospital, a large specialty clinic in South Africa, and then went to the University of Liverpool Veterinary School in England to complete a one-year rotating internship.
I think I was always interested in oncology but it became truly entrenched when, during my internship at Liverpool, I attended a veterinary conference and heard a fascinating presentation by Dr. Nick Bacon, who had done an oncology fellowship at the Flint Animal Cancer Center. Dr. Bacon made it clear how important a role surgery plays in treating cancer in cats and dogs. For the first time, I learned of the existence of a surgical oncology fellowship and that the Flint Animal Cancer Center in Fort Collins was one of only two places where it was offered.
After my internship, I remained at Liverpool for a year-long orthopedic research assistantship, then a three-year surgical residency. After my residency, I joined the hospital staff as a soft tissue surgeon, which again brought many oncology patients my way. In early 2016, I was fortunate enough to be accepted to the surgical oncology Fellowship program at CSU.
Understanding surgery’s role in a patient’s overall treatment is one of the most important aspects of becoming a good surgical oncologist. At the FACC, we take a multidisciplinary approach to cancer, bringing medical, surgical and radiation oncology perspectives together to address each case; and providing each patient a complete and comprehensive treatment plan. Every oncology case is a challenge because the disease is individual in each patient, even if the same type of cancer.
Client communication is very important and is a two-way street. We educate pet owners about the disease but also, we listen carefully to understand each family’s goals. Most families want to know there are options and want assurance that their pet’s best interests come first as we go through the process.
One option I discuss with owners is clinical trials. Increasingly, pet owners are aware that not only can trials be a treatment option in difficult cases, but also that data from trials are important to the translational work we do here. Information from veterinary clinical trials may help not only current and future animal patients, but human cancer patients as well.
My family and I find Colorado’s sunny skies and dramatic landscapes a pleasant change after six years in the rainy climate of the United Kingdom.
My wife, Zerelda, is a veterinary surgical nurse and we have two children: Harry, who is four, and Sophia, who is a year. We are temporarily petless as Wilbur, our domestic longhair cat remains in the U.K. being looked after by a very good friend. We’ll tell him all about our adventures in the American West when we see him again!