How a Cancer Journey Connects Oncologist to His Patients


Dr. Dustin Deming, a gastrointestinal oncologist, began his own cancer journey more than a decade ago when he received a diagnosis of rectal cancer.

Often, receiving a cancer diagnosis can require a crash course in oncology that few patients ever expected to take.

For colorectal cancer specialist Dr. Dustin Deming, a diagnosis of rectal cancer two weeks after receiving his first faculty appointment required an education of a different sort.

Dr. Dusty Deming in the lab.   Photo courtesy of UW Health

Dr. Dusty Deming in the lab.

Photo courtesy of UW Health

Deming is an ACI/Schwenn Family associate professor in the division of hematology, medical oncology and palliative care at UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and a gastrointestinal oncologist and laboratory researcher for UW Carbone Cancer Center.

During an interview with CURE®, he said he needed to learn how to be a patient.

“For me, the crash course was in being able to allow my medical friends to be my doctors,” said Deming. “So, that was the part that I really had to wrap my head around. I knew what we needed to do. I knew I knew what I was about to go through. But I hadn't sat in the patient chair before. And so, the crash course that I had to enter was the crash course in what it's like to be a patient.”

Deming was 31 at the time of his diagnosis in 2012, married and with a 12-week-old daughter who he’d brought to his colonoscopy appointment. Treatment with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation followed, with Deming working, as he was able to do so.

While colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer diagnosis in the United States, only 2% of new cases occur in patients ages 20 to 34, with the majority of cases (25.5%) occurring in patients ages 65 to 74, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“It’s obviously extremely ironic, and (was) potentially life-shattering at the time,” Deming said. “You know, when I was diagnosed, I had a 12-week-old daughter who came to the colonoscopy with me. Getting that kind of news at 31, I don't think anybody's prepared for. Having been a colon cancer doctor and researcher was helpful in that it provided me with insight into what we needed to do. But it was also terrifying, in that I knew all the dirty secrets.”

After being cancer-free for eight and a half years, Deming experienced a recurrence in 2020. He received further chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, followed by a second recurrence about a year later that was treated with surgery and chemotherapy. Approximately 10 months after his latest surgery, he has no evidence of cancer.

Dustin spoke with CURE’s “Cancer Horizons” podcast about his cancer journey, the connections it’s created with his patients and his continuing dedication to treating others.

“Having been a patient myself, I feel like — now, I don't know how it feels for each individual patient, but I know how it feels for me — I know how it feels to hear the ‘cancer’ word, I know how it feels to have to go through chemo, radiation and multiple surgeries,” Deming said. “So, every time I meet a patient for the first time, I sit down and tell the patients kind of where I've been so that they know where I'm coming from and also (to) make sure that they know that I now get it and that I'm actually truly honored to be part of the team helping take care of them.

“I know what it means to trust oncologists with your care, and I'm so glad that I'm here to be able to help more patients.”

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.

Related Videos
Dr. Kim in an interview with CURE
Dr. Barzi in an interview with CURE
nurse practitoner, Stephanie Yates
Nurse practitioner, Stephanie Yates, in an interview with CURE
Related Content