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Giving patients hope is rewarding for father-daughter docs
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Photo: Paul Colletti
Dr. Christine Stoffel Sharis and her father, Dr. Thomas Stoffel, are both radiation oncologists at the Trinity Cancer Center at Trinity Moline.
MOLINE -- Being a physician is all in the family for Dr. Thomas Stoffel. All three of his children became doctors and married doctors, he said. His daughter, Dr. Christine Sharis, even followed in his footsteps to radiation oncology.

The father-daughter team splits time between Trinity and Genesis hospitals, and, on this day, the two were seeing patients busily at the Trinity Cancer Center at Trinity Moline.

Dr. Stoffel, of Moline, said he first wanted to become a doctor when he was a senior in high school.

"I knew I enjoyed the sciences," he said, adding that he was trying to decide whether to become a doctor or an engineer. His enjoyment of medicine and the ability to work with patients helped him to make up his mind, he said.

Between his second and third year of medical school at the Medical College of Wisconsin, he decided to become a radiation oncologist. He said he was supposed to do a rotation with a surgeon, but the surgeon got sick and there wasn't another available. Instead, he was asked to do a rotation in the radiation oncology department, which, at the time, he said he had no interest in.

Once in the department, though, "I thought it was just fascinating," he said. Looking back, he said he is very happy with the choice he made.

He said he wasn't surprised when his daughter expressed interest in becoming a doctor -- "she was always interested in science," he said -- and he was happy when she specifically chose his sub-specialty.

"I'm very pleased (and) privileged to be able to share this part of medicine," he said. It is a rewarding thing to have your child look at what you do for a living and want to do it, too, he said.

Dr. Sharis, of Bettendorf, said she had wanted to be a doctor for just about as long as she can remember.

"I had a great example in my father," she said.

While in medical school at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, she said she enjoyed pediatrics, but the science and technology involved with cancer was "fantastic. There are so many new things going on in cancer research."

She said college (at Harvard University), medical school, and residency (at Massachusetts General Hospital) were a lot of work, but she never once thought about giving up.

"You just accept the work and go with that," Dr. Sharis said. She said everyone has rough moments, but the end result is "a worthwhile goal to keep trying for."

Starting residency was a bit "daunting," she said, because there was "so much to learn." But at the same time, that is what made it fun. There are "so many new things -- new discoveries," she said.

She has been practicing radiation oncology since she finished her residency in 2000. After practicing in the Boston area for a few years, she said she and her husband moved to the Quad-Cities. "I feel very lucky," she said.

Her father said his favorite parts about his job are working with patients, helping to solve problems with the special means available in radiation and experiencing the gratification that comes with helping others.

"It's very, very stimulating to see how patients deal with their problems," and figure out how to help them through, Dr. Stoffel said.

Dr. Sharis said she believes working with patients is a "privilege" that offers the chance to talk with them and become a part of their lives. "It's a tremendous privilege to be able to help people like that," she said. She also enjoys working with her father. "He loves it (his job) -- he's constantly reading new things," she said. "His enthusiasm and love for medicine has always just been very apparent."

Dr. Stoffel said the pair's sub-specialty of radiation oncology is especially exciting because it offers the opportunity to combine new technology with intense patient care.

Dr. Sharis said technologies and means of treatment always are changing. "It's so exciting. It's always changing, and to be even a small part of that is thrilling," she said.

She said there are many discoveries being made, and she enjoys giving patients "a new hope, a new option" that in some cases wasn't there just a month before.

While their jobs can be very rewarding, the downside comes with the realization that you can't cure everyone, Dr. Stoffel said. When this happens, the two said they focus on bettering the patient's quality of life.

"I'm an optimist by nature," Dr. Stoffel said. Even if he can't cure the cancer, he said he works to get it under control and converts it into a more manageable condition like a chronic disease that patients can live with.

Dr. Sharis said it's frustrating that doctors cannot cure more cancers. She added that more research is needed for stage 4 cancers, for instance.

In addition to sharing the same department, Dr. Stoffel said he and his daughter also share the same philosophy and goals. The two are "very patient-oriented," he said, and he enjoys discussing cases with her to get her perspective.

"(We) try to deliver the best possible care that we possibly can," he said.



Sharing the dream

Who: Radiation oncologists Dr. Thomas Stoffel and his daughter, Dr. Christine Sharis

Quote: "I'm very pleased (and) privileged to be able to share this part of medicine." -- Dr. Stoffel on working with his daughter



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1939 -- 75 years ago: One week late, because of the outbreak of war, Dr. E.L. Beyer resumed his work as professor of romance languages at Augustana College. Dr. and Mrs. Beyer left Germany on the last train to the Belgian border.
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