Dr. Peeran Sandhu - Oncologist / Hematologist, Tammy Walker Cancer Center

Dr. Peeran Sandhu was born in a small town in Pakistan and moved to the United States in 1988 with his family when he was approximately 18 years old. His parents were farm workers, and the entire family worked at several farms in California. Dr. Sandhu wanted to become a physician at a young age because the village he grew up in did not have any doctor to deliver the care needed to help the sick. So, Dr. Sandhu worked hard and made sure he had good grades. He began learning the English language and went to college to pursue his dream to become a doctor. He has fulfilled his dream and had no plans ever to stop practicing medicine.

Dr. Sandhu completed his degree in Medicine from Medical University of Lublin, Poland.  He did his internship, internal medicine residency and Hematology/Oncology fellowship at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. He has been practicing Hematology and Oncology in Salina, Kansas area.  His current practice is at the Tammy Walker Cancer Center and is affiliated with Salina Regional Medical Center. Dr. Sandhu is well respected amongst his colleagues and patients because of his genuine desire to help them while they’re most vulnerable.  Peeran Sandhu is also a dedicated husband and father and has a close relationship with his family. Dr. Sandhu enjoys spending time with his family and relaxing when he has time off.

Why did you choose to become a doctor?

What inspired me to become a hematology/oncology specialist was my desire to be in intellectually challenging to help the most vulnerable of individuals heal from cancer and other serious illnesses. Ever since my I was a young child if anyone in my family became ill and developed nausea and vomiting, they would always come to me. All my family members knew that I cared more about their comfort and wellbeing than my own sense of dislike and disgusted by the odor and vomit.  My sense of helping them was stronger than my aversion to their sickness.

What area do you specialize in?

I specialize in Hematology and treat benign and malignant diseases of the blood, and I specialize in Oncology and treat cancer of breast, lung, colon, pancreas, prostate, breast and all other solid tumors.   I help people in their fight against serious life-threatening cancers. My goal is to cure cancer if at all possible and slow the growth of cancer to increase patient’s life if a cure is not possible.  I achieve this by using all methods available to me ranging from surgery, radiation, immunotherapy, targeted and cytotoxic chemotherapy.

What kind of educational training did you have to receive at medical school?

I was trained in three years of general internal medicine, then three years of hematology and oncology training.  From there, I had two paths I could choose to pursue. Our program at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine offered a clinical and a research track. My interest has always been to work with patients, therefore, I chose clinical tract which allowed me to see more patient with cancer and blood disorders. I was not interested in researching in the lab.

I wanted to help patient’s heal in ways that working in research wouldn’t provide the opportunity for me to do.  I had more exposure to different types of blood, breast, skin, bone marrow, and many others cancers. I learned about new targeted biologic, immunologic and cytotoxic chemotherapies as well as surgical and radiation treatments.

What do you love most about your job?

I like that I can help others heal from their illness and the connection I have with my patients. If all the treatment options are exhausted I try to provide comfort and pain control which increase the quality of their remaining lives.  I am there as a support system to help them and their loved ones get through this challenging time. I love that I can do what inspires me and in return, inspire others.

When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted yourself? If so, how did you handle that?

It’s always nerve-wracking when you first start your medical internship. That is because you may have lots of book knowledge, but you don’t have the hands-on experience to make decisions about a real human being. You have to be able to help your patients make life-changing decisions. Sometimes you think to yourself, “should I have gone to medical school and can I even do this?”, because the prospect of making the wrong call and potentially cause significant harm to someone is terrifying.

Then slowly the fear wears off and you start to realize that you’ve had a lot of training to bring you to where you are and you start becoming more comfortable and confident in making decisions.  Repeated exposure to many different and new diseases eventually lead to calm and collective way of decision making regardless of the degree of difficulty of situation or illness.

When you have a doubt, it isn’t a reason to stop trying. Every human being is afraid of new and novel situations. Our persistence allows our faith in ourselves to grow and we continue to improve.  As for myself, I just kept going and I don’t allow fear to hamper my goals and slowly but surely I become more and more certain of competence and ability in my chosen field to help people and help people better their lives.

What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?

The toughest part of my job is when a patient gets to a point where there is nothing more I can do to cure their cancer or extend their life.  It is very difficult and helpless feeling to face the patient and their loved ones to tell them that their condition is terminal and that all viable treatments have been exhausted and to recommend that treatment is not working and should be stopped. Sometimes there are more medications which can be tried but the patient is to weak to receive the treatment.  I am always cognizant that I must shoot straight and tell the patient exactly what I am thinking.  A person’s quality of life is just as important as keeping them alive.

What do you think it is that makes you successful?

I love human beings and I love helping people when they’re in their most vulnerable state. So, for me, my heart is content with helping them and my work does not feel like work. I have a deep passion and a drive for assisting people to get better. It is the driving force behind my work and, in return, I am successful at what I do. I don’t feel overwhelmed or have the seven-year itch to find something else to do. Being a doctor is where my heart is at.  My patients see how much I care about their wellbeing and that my mission is to help them. If I just looked at it as a job, then people are going to see right through that. I feel very grateful to get to do what I love every day. It keeps my mind and heart engaged. This I believe has played a big part in my success.

What would you consider to be the greatest accomplishment in your career?

Oh, there are several. Technically every day is an accomplishment because I help my patients stay alive and fight cancer. There is one case which stands out though. I had an elderly male patient who had acute myeloid leukemia. His disease eventually progressed on all the standard treatments. I referred him to a university hospital. However, the treatment he received there did not work, and he was on the verge of dying when he returned to me. So, I tried an older chemotherapy regimen which was required him to be in the hospital for approximately a month but it put the leukemia in remission and he was able to live another 14 months with great quality of life.

Then, there was this other lady who was 89 years old, and I treated her in the same way that helped the elderly man I mentioned earlier. She ended up living another year without having to worry about any more treatments or blood transfusion. When ever I can use creative, out of the box methods to add meaningful time to someone’s life, it gives me the greatest joy.

What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?

I plan to continue doing what I’m passionate about and that is helping patients with cancer.  I am excited about many new treatments coming down the pike which I can use to treat different cancers.  Many of my patients are alive today because of the new drugs which have become available over the last 3-4 yrs.  I am looking forward to the day when treatment of cancer will become so successful that cancer would not be the scariest word in the English language.

What books have inspired you?

There is a book that I read, which was written by Randy Pausch, who was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. The book titles The Last Lecture was published in 2007.  It was a series of lectures with each one talking about different lessons he has learned during his life time and what he thought truly mattered at the end. The fact that even in a time of despair Randy wanted to help other was inspiring.  The other book which comes to mind is When Breath BecomesAir by Dr. Paul Kalanithi.

Most of all I have a great supportive family. My wife and I love to sit down with our children every night and have conversations ranging from school to sports to who is the best basketball player of all times. I always say it’s me but my kids don’t seem to agree. We have a lot of fun together which make me realize on daily bases that life is a great and precious gift.

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