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The Right Questions

Greg Garber serves as Director of Oncology Support Services, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Jefferson Health. Photo: Bryan Karl Lathrop

Imagine guiding patient after patient, family after family, through cancer’s relentlessly brutal repercussions day in, day out, for more than 25 years. If you or a loved one have endured the ravages of cancer, you know the upheaval it causes, and you understand the extraordinary strength needed for a patient and family to persevere. Surviving this

storm tests limits and sometimes breaks them. To weather that storm on a daily basis—in volume—and not burn out takes an extraordinary person. Philadelphia is lucky to have just such a person fighting for our cancer patients and their families. Meet Greg Garber, Director of Oncology Support Services at Jefferson Health.

Talking with Garber about his critical role at Jefferson, his hand-in-glove collaboration with Legacy of Hope, and his love for running left me refreshingly hopeful. He’s a straight shooter—no fluff, no posturing, and not one iota of attitude. Just nuanced, caring insight based on decades of experience. Garber exudes a genuine, nearly palpable, care and concern for doing right by the cancer patients seen by him and his team at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. Even after 25 years, it’s clear that he’s not been burned out by demanding work with Philly’s oncology population. And Philly is better for it.

Garber shares that he avoids burnout by diversifying what he does. Not doing all direct practice certainly helps in that regard. He guides his team to ask important questions and come up with innovative solutions, which in turn helps them make big impacts. “We're always willing to try something out and see if it works—and be okay if it doesn't, as long as we learn from our mistakes. We see what we do as kind of a continuous quality improvement project, in terms of how we can best meet the needs of our patients and their caregivers. My team is amazing; I’ve never worked with a better bunch of people. They blow my mind every single day. They're fiercely dedicated, interested, devoted. Any one of them could just pick up tomorrow and go into the private sector and probably do a lot better financially, but they stay and do this work; and that's tremendously inspiring to me. Not a week passes that I'm not awed by things done by our team, by our patients—their bravery, determination, sitting in a very frightening place and allowing strangers essentially to take care of them. We have the opportunity to break down barriers, break down healthcare disparities, to really think about how we are taking this opportunity of illness to work with our patients, to create some kind of lasting, meaningful change—meaningful to them, to us, to their families.”

“Somebody said to me early on in my career when I was working in another cancer center, ‘Do you have any idea how hard it is to sit in a chair when you're getting an oncology, a chemotherapy infusion from a complete stranger? And the amount of trust that is inherent in that?’ And it has stuck with me to this day. What an awful experience! To not run out of the room, or say ‘I am not doing this. Like, I don't know you. This is a toxic drug that could be beneficial, but this is scary. Watching that day in and day out is inspiring.”

“This perspective is critical. You can go out there and look at all kinds of support programming throughout the country and much of it is wonderful. But the question that comes to me is: is this stuff truly patient