She is one of the best pediatric oncologists in the country, and today Dr. Lia Gore is dressed in a grass hula skirt and Hawaiian shirt, laughing with campers at Roundup River Ranch. It’s day three of a weeklong summer camp for patients with cancer and blood diseases, and the campers are cracking up remembering Dr. Gore’s spirited participation in last night’s “no hands allowed” spaghetti-eating contest.
The camp outside Gypsum, Colo., is more than a hundred miles away from Children’s Hospital Colorado. And yet here, Dr. Gore, the newly-named director of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders (CCBD), looks right at home.
“This is the best week of the year,” says Dr. Gore. “No question.”
In the five years since Roundup River Ranch opened, Dr. Gore has never missed the annual cancer camp. Some of the children here this year are still fighting cancer; others Dr. Gore and the CCBD team have helped cure.
“Camp treats the soul,” explains Dr. Gore. “At the hospital, we often have to tell our patients what they can’t do. Camp teaches them what they can do. Sometimes they surprise themselves. More often, they surprise us. Those experiences give us the power to go back and face the really hard days again.”
The search for a cure
Fortunately, Dr. Gore says she has far more happy days than sad ones at Children’s Colorado.
“There are amazing stories of victory that happen all the time,” says Dr. Gore.
Still, there are challenges. “I think most parents will tell you that there’s only one day worse than the day their child is diagnosed with cancer,” says Dr. Gore, “and that’s either the day the cancer comes back or the day their child succumbs to the disease.”
If Dr. Gore has anything to do with it, there will be fewer of those days ahead. She is internationally renowned for her work to find new treatments and cures for pediatric cancer, and she has big plans for the CCBD’s future.
“We haven’t cured everybody yet,” says Dr. Gore. “Is that my vision? Absolutely – that we become so good at taking care of kids that they won’t need us anymore.”
Dr. Gore’s vision includes making big strides in precision medicine, a new approach to treating cancer and other illnesses that utilizes a patient’s “unique health fingerprint.” Researchers at Children’s Colorado are investigating ways to personalize treatments at the molecular level, taking into account not only a patient’s specific disease type, but also their family history and genetic make-up. These discoveries could lead to less invasive, less toxic, more effective treatments -- and potentially even cures.
“It can be challenging, but those are the fun challenges, because you know at the end of it, you are discovering something really meaningful for our kids,” says Dr. Gore
She pauses to look at the campers darting around the ranch, enjoying the simple pleasures of summer camp. Singing songs. Catching fish. Painting pictures. Dr. Gore smiles.
“When people find out what I do, their first reaction is usually, ‘Oh, that’s so sad,’’ says Dr. Gore. “They don’t realize that I have the best job in the world. I have the most amazing patients and the most incredible colleagues. What I do is a privilege.”