Richard Paulson (RP): How did you grow up, PK, and where, and how did you make the decision to, you know, go into medicine?
Phuong Khanh Morrow (PK): It’s kind of a circuitous route. I was born obviously in Vietnam and then came over in the war, and as I was growing up, my mom, who is an amazingly strong personality, she didn’t want me to be a doctor. She actually said, you know, you’re going to get too old, and you won’t ever get married, and I want to have grandchildren, so I went to college and I just kept getting this call, literally it was just like in my heart. Every year I’d think, you know I really want to be a doctor. I ended up going to pharmacy school, which is what she wanted me to do, and then I went to the VA, the veteran’s affairs hospital, and there were these lovely, lovely men, right, who were vets, and who were so kind and so grateful, you know, and I found myself even on weekends coming in just to sit at the bedside, because sometimes no one would come visit them. And just to be with them, right, to keep them company, and I realized then, I have to be a doctor. I want so badly to kind of quench this thirst inside me. I’m going to medical school. I have to do this.
RP: You’re an oncologist. How did you decide that cancer oncology is what you wanted to be your calling?
PK: One, my grandmother had breast cancer. I remember her going to chemotherapy and she was just this lovely stoic woman, so I thought, I want to take care of those patients, those brave souls who, you know, make you live life differently. And I thought, gosh, you know, the honor of taking care of these patients, I want to do this for the rest of my life.
How about you Richard? Please tell me how you went from being a farm boy in Canada to where you are now.
RP: The number one reason is I have amazing parents. I grew up in a small town in Northern Canada. My dad was a school teacher, school principal. My mom was an entrepreneur, a small family business. And, you know, between the two of them, they did a great job in helping me learn the value of learning and you have to be kind of aspiring to grow your mind. You mentioned your grandmother, I had a great-grandmother, and probably half of my childhood, she had Alzheimer’s, which was devastating. And to interact with someone who you saw change so much over very few years, really motivated me to say, you know, how do I engage in something where I can try to help people.
PK: You’ve really dealt with lots of disease states over your career. Now that we’re moving more into myeloma, how do you feel like myeloma’s different for us?
RP: You look at myeloma 30 years ago, five year survival rates were probably around 20-25 percent.1 Now they’re up over 50-60 percent.1 And that’s rewarding. I mean, that’s what motivates me and I know motivates everybody who I work with. It’s a devastating disease, and I think about the opportunity to evolve it into a chronic disease, or even to beat it. How do you view myeloma and why is it something you’re so passionate about?
PK: I am one of those people who really thinks that there is a potential cure out there. To know that we can bring drugs to patients, and really relieve their pain, that’s amazing.
RP: Just yesterday, meeting with physicians, they were talking about a myeloma patient that they first started treating 26 years ago.2
PK: Oh my goodness.
RP: And that put a smile on my face.
PK: It brings tears to my eyes, I mean really!
RP: That’s why we do what we do, and that’s why I feel blessed to work at Amgen, as our mission is to serve patients.
1. National Cancer Institute. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program: Cancer Stat Facts: Myeloma. Avaliable at https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/mulmy.html. Accessed on April 18, 2017.
2. Kraj, M, et al. Long, even exceeding 20 years, survival in multiple myeloma. 15th Congress of the European Hematology Association. 2010. Abstract #0951.