Buddy Up: Dr. Melisa Wong and Dr. Harvey Cohen

This Spring, the CARG Buddy Up series features Dr. Melisa Wong and her mentor Dr. Harvey Cohen. Dr. Wong is an Assistant Professor in the Divisions of Hematology/Oncology and Geriatrics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). She also leads the UCSF Older Adult Cancer Care Program. Dr. Cohen is the Walter Kempner Distinguished Professor of Medicine at Duke University and the Emeritus Director of the Center for the Study of Aging & Human Development. He is also a Faculty Research Scholar of DuPRI's Center for Population Health & Aging and a Member of the Duke Cancer Institute.

Their relationship was forged in 2018 with the tragic passing of Dr. Arti Hurria, who was one of Dr. Wong's geriatric oncology advisors for her Paul B. Beeson Emerging Leaders Career Development Award in Aging application. When Dr. Hurria died, Dr. Cohen immediately agreed to serve as Dr. Wong's substitute advisor to support her application.

"He literally replied to say yes in 23 minutes," she remarks. In his letter of support, Dr. Cohen, who had previously mentored Dr. Hurria, referred to Dr. Wong as one of his "academic granddaughters," which she characterizes as "one of the nicest, most heartfelt things anyone has ever written about me and truly reflects what CARG has meant to me over all these years."

While they were formally paired as CARG Buddies in 2018, their informal mentorship relationship began years earlier. Ever since joining CARG in 2014, Dr. Wong had admired Dr. Cohen's leadership in geriatric oncology—both in CARG and the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, where he chaired the Alliance Cancer in the Elderly Committee (now the Cancer in the Older Adult Committee).

"The beauty is that this has grown organically and from the beginning has felt natural and unforced," observes Dr. Cohen. "From my perspective that is the ideal buddy pairing."

As buddies, the two researchers have collaborated on several geriatric oncology studies over the years, including using the Toxicity over Time approach to understand longitudinal chemotherapy toxicity by age and performance status and examining enrollment trends and disparities among patients with lung cancer in national clinical trials. They also lead the CARG Health Services Research Core together.

"He continues to provide sage advice for my prospective cohort study of older adults with lung cancer," says Dr. Wong, whose research focuses on improving the care of older adults with lung cancer through understanding risk factors for functional decline and developing novel interventions to improve shared decision making.

Their joint publications include an article in The Oncologist, an original report in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, a description of the CARG Health Services Research Core in the Journal of Geriatric Oncology, and a touching tribute to Dr. Hurria in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.

For Dr. Cohen, working with Dr. Wong has been a pleasure. "She is a self-starter and always prepared," he notes, "which makes it easy to interact and to offer advice when appropriate." Plus, videoconferencing during the pandemic has come with the unexpected benefit of seeing Benjamin, Dr. Wong's son, grow up via Zoom.


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