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Gord Downie's Doctor Talks Life, Hope And High Fives

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Dr. James Perry (right) at a press conference to discuss Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie's diagnosis of a brain tumour.

Visitors to Dr. James Perry's brain tumour clinic are often quite surprised to hear the sound that spills out into the hallway: laughter.

"We try to make the most of things," Dr. Perry explains. "We know that time may be limited but that's no reason to stop living. So we celebrate that. Every good scan we have a little party or a high-five or a hug. Hugs are common in our clinic. There's much more happiness than people would expect."

It's that happiness has kept Dr. Perry, neuro-oncologist and head of Sunnybrook's Neurology Program, at Sunnybrook for 20 years. A neuro-oncologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of brain tumours of the nervous system (brain and spine). These include primary brain tumours, like glioblastomas and metastatic brain tumours, which spread to the brain from other parts of the body. When Dr. Perry's mentors encouraged him to look into the field of work, there was no neuro-oncologist in Toronto.

"These patients and their families need a voice, an advocate, a researcher," Dr. Perry said. "We want to provide the best care possible and also invent the future of care."

And the father of four is doing just that -- he's heavily involved in global research trials that have been making a difference in brain tumour treatment for decades.

"In my first year of practice, one of my young patients entered into a clinical trial, one of the first trials ever done here at Sunnybrook," he recalls. "She outlived every patient in the worldwide trial. She sends me a Christmas card every year and updates me what's been going on with her life."

Dr. Perry says stories like this remind him that this cancer can be cured, even if those instances are rare.

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Dr. James Perry

Of course, there are still many very hard days. Those tougher days help push him forward in his research.

Dr. Perry says he's excited about some truly groundbreaking research going on at Sunnybrook, including blood-brain barrier disruption, which may allow drugs to be delivered to the previously unreachable part of the brain.

He's also working to develop a cancer and cognition clinic, which will involve a team of doctors and other health care professionals and examine how memory and thinking are affected from cancer and its treatment.

A team player, Dr. Perry helped start the Canadian Brain Tumour Consortium, a network of researchers and doctors who work together to advance treatments.

"It's a collegial way of looking at new therapies instead of competing to see who finishes research first," he says. "It's a proud moment."

And when patients come to him to show him photos of their graduation, or another birthday with their grandchildren, or another summer's day up at the cottage, Dr. Perry is humbled and proud.

"I'm so grateful for those happy moments," he says.

Learn more about glioblastomas & brain cancer research from Sunnybrook experts.

Written by Alexis Dobranowski, Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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