The family of Dr. Ciara O’Sullivan initially thought she might grow up to work in a creative profession. She even considered becoming a talk show host! Once she chose medicine, she initially planned to specialize in psychiatry but was pulled into oncology by the science and the holistic care. She is hopeful about the advent of antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) and their promise in the treatment of several breast cancer subtypes.
I started out in medicine thinking that I wanted to become a psychiatrist, but a surprise rotation in oncology changed my professional trajectory forever. I grew up and was educated in Ireland, graduating from the University College Dublin and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. I am excited about being the national study chair of an FDA registration trial that seeks to improve treatment for patients with early stage HER2-positive breast cancer. I love to read, and the perfect evening is being by the fire at home with my family (including our two cats), with a glass of white wine and some pizza, watching reality TV.
Describe your sense of call or mission to become a doctor.
Growing up in Ireland, I loved acting, art, music, English literature, and languages. Both my family and I thought I would pursue a more creative profession. Given that I love talking to people and asking them questions, I also considered becoming a journalist or a talk show host! Eventually, though, my fascination with people and their stories led me to medicine. I love to problem-solve and learn things I can apply to help patients in a tangible way. I initially planned to become a psychiatrist, but an unplanned swap into an oncology rotation as a resident changed the course of my professional life. I was inspired by the multidisciplinary team approach as well as by the bravery of the patients and their families. I loved the focus on both the scientific (new drugs and mechanisms of action) and the holistic all at once (the caring aspect, or art of oncology). I knew within a week of starting the position I would work in oncology for the rest of my life.
What do you see as promising trends in your field or specialty?
I think the advent of antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) such as trastuzumab deruxtecan, sacituzumab govitecan reflects an important landmark. Therapeutic strategies incorporating these agents show great promise in the treatment of several breast cancer subtypes (HER2-positive and triple negative breast cancer [TNBC]) as well as other malignancies. In breast cancer, the relatively recent FDA approvals of trastuzumab deruxtecan and sacituzumab govitecan reflected an important advance for patients. Another promising ADC for TNBC is datopotamab deruxtecan; phase III evaluation is planned. Further, results from the DESTINY-Breast04 trial evaluating progression-free survival and overall survival in patients with HER2-low unresectable and/or metastatic breast cancer treated with trastuzumab deruxtecan compared with physician’s choice of chemotherapy will be presented at an upcoming conference. Currently, we know that both the primary and secondary endpoints were met, which could have important implications for the 5% f patients with HER2-low metastatic breast cancer.
What is the last book you read? Did you enjoy it? Why or why not?
I don’t always read books that are educational. I usually have a “just for fun” book on the go, as well as something a bit more thought provoking. The last book I read for fun was “An Outrageous Affair” by Penny Vincenzi. Set in post-war Britain, New York and Hollywood in the 1950s-1970s, there were lots of plot twists involving glamorous aristocrats sipping champagne. I thoroughly enjoyed it, the perfect antidote to wintertime, troubling world events, and COVID-19.
On a more serious note, I recently read Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris, which is based on the true story of Cilka Klein, a Jewish teenager from former Czechoslovakia who survives Auschwitz and Birkenau only to be deported to a Siberian Prison Camp. She meets a doctor who takes her under his wing and teaches her how to administer medical care to the prisoners under difficult conditions. She cares for patients for many years before finally being liberated. It was a difficult but inspiring read.
What do you love to do outside of your work?
A perfect night is being by the fire at home with my family (including our two cats!), with a glass of white wine and some pizza, watching reality TV. By the way, our Christmas tree usually comes down sometime in March. I love to chat with friends and family either virtually or in person (since they are based in Ireland or elsewhere in the US). I also love to try new restaurants, read books, check the news and just “be” and reflect. I also like to sing, occasionally recording soundtracks for fun in our small home studio. I also enjoy catching up on some sleep and planning long overdue travel and trips to see friends and family at home and abroad.