As an attending radiation oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, Dr. Josh Yamada (BA ’89) often sees patients with complex and difficult cancer problems. It is important that patients feel that their physicians are not only competent but also genuinely care. Yamada felt uniquely prepared to treat such patients because of his BYU education in Japanese literature and psychology, degrees that he feels prepared him to best relate and communicate with patients. “It is called either the practice of medicine or art of medicine, because you’re dealing with people; there is nothing scientific about that.”
Named one of Newsweek’s Top Cancer Doctors in 2015, Yamada is both a full-time clinician and an academic physician, whose research focus is improving patient outcomes with focused high-dose radiation therapy. He specializes in adult brain and spine tumors and how radiation can be used to make treatment less invasive.
“One reason I became an oncologist is that each patient had a lot of teach me,” he says. “When people receive a cancer diagnosis, it makes them reevaluate their lives, and they tend to appreciate what is most important. In every situation, I feel like my patient has something to teach me. It isn’t always medical, but instead about what is important in life. It is a real privilege to be with cancer patients.”
“I will never forget a mom with a young family who was found to have stage IV melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer, which had spread throughout her body, including multiple tumors in the brain. She also found out that she was pregnant. Treatment would be difficult even without being pregnant, but it would be impossible to give many types of treatment without potentially harming the child she was bearing. She opted to carry the child to full term without chemotherapy, even though she knew she would die without treatment. We devised special radiation therapy for her brain tumors to minimize the risk of treatment to her unborn child, with the goal to keep her alive until she delivered. She delivered a healthy baby, and even lived to see his first birthday. You can imagine how her example of courage and determination to do what she thought was of most importance affected everyone around her. She taught us all so many life lessons, and I am a better man because of her.”
Throughout his years of education and training, he admits, “I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the support of my wife (Susan Cranney ’92). My career has been a partnership between us.”
“In what I do, I just try to help people as best I can. The Savior was the master healer, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m not anywhere close to that, but it is a great blessing to work in a field where I can try emulate Him in some small way.”
—Collin T. Mathias ('16)
Photo credit: Eiko Joy Yamada