Cancer Care Through the Ages
Older patients are in good hands with geriatric oncologist Dr. Thomas Reske.
Born in Buffalo, New York, to German parents, Dr. Thomas Reske moved to Germany with his family as a child. Growing up, he was “always fascinated by cancer,” and he planned to become a pathologist, like his father — but, as he completed medical school in Berlin, he became attracted to another discipline. “In my last year of med school, I had an amazing rotation in geriatrics,” he says. “I made up my mind that I was really interested in combining these two fields and finding my field of interest.”
He returned to his birthplace for a residency in internal medicine at the State University of New York at Buffalo. After volunteering at Roswell Park Cancer Center in Buffalo, and doing a combined fellowship in geriatric medicine, hematology and oncology at Boston University Medical Center, Dr. Reske became a geriatric oncologist.
Upon finishing his fellowship, Dr. Reske joined Louisiana State University Medical Center in New Orleans. Here, he teaches medical residents; supervises fellows in the hematology and oncology fellowship program; and treats both primary care and cancer patients. At LSU’s geriatric primary care clinic, Dr. Reske evaluates and addresses conditions like dementia, frailty, incontinence and injuries from falls. “My true belief is that if you want to be a real geriatric oncologist, you have to practice both [geriatric medicine and oncology],” he says.
Along with his interest in treating cancer, Dr. Reske was also drawn to closing the gap that sometimes widens between elderly patients and their physicians. “Part of the issue is that all of our lives, and our clinics, have gotten so busy that it’s really hard to focus on an elderly individual — because they have many co-morbidities,” he says. Health problems are just some of these potential pitfalls; other complications of effectively treating older patients include transportation and communication issues.
“There might be issues of insurance; hearing; walking; it’s really hard for subspecialists to focus on all of these different syndromes, where your main focus is supposed to be on one organ,” Dr. Reske explains. “It becomes a challenge to try to see the patient as a whole, and not only the organ’s specific problem.” Communication between multiple specialists treating one patient can also be insufficient, leading to “fragmented care” for that patient.
In every cancer case he tackles, Dr. Reske balances treatment strength with the patient’s wishes. “Sometimes it’s about trying to protect quality of life — and trying not only to focus on treating the cancer, but trying to preserve independence and dignity,” he says. “In a younger individual, it might be all geared toward trying to cure the cancer. In an older individual, that might not be the primary focus.”
Dr. Reske enjoys creating relationships with his patients and hearing their stories. “It’s very rewarding to become a part of their lives,” he says. “It gives you a completely different perspective on life. Someone who has been on this planet for 85 years just has a very different perspective on life, and treatment and expectations … Hearing all these different stories of hardship, or love or tragedy, just makes you appreciate life a little bit more. And sometimes, it gives your own problems a little bit more perspective.”
Thomas Reske, M.D., Ph.D
Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine
Section of Geriatric Medicine, Hematology and Oncology
LSU Healthcare Network
3700 St. Charles Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70115
MEDICAL SCHOOL: University of Essen; Humboldt University; Berlin, Germany
RESIDENCY: State University of New York at Buffalo, Internal Medicine
FELLOWSHIP: Combined Fellowship, Boston University Medical Center, Geriatrics/Hematology
BOARD CERTIFICATIONS: Internal Medicine, Geriatric Medicine, Hematology, Oncology