An interview with Dr. William “Rusty” Robinson of N.E.D.
By Catherine MacDonald
Ovarian cancer has the highest incidence of death after pancreatic cancer, yet this and other “below-the-belt” reproductive cancers – cervical, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar receive far less attention and research funding to prevent and successfully treat these diseases. One group of surgeons has taken a rather unconventional approach to fixing this problem: They formed a rock band.
N.E.D., which stands for No Evidence of Disease – the medical term every woman diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer wants to hear following treatment – has recorded two studio albums. The cornerstone of N.E.D.’s mission is education and awareness. Their songs are designed to empower women, give them hope, and to break the silence surrounding gynecologic cancers.
On Friday, November 2, D.C.’s Globe Theater will host N.E.D. All six band members are gynecologic oncology surgeons, and they’re on a rock ‘n’ roll mission to save women’s lives.
Dr. William “Rusty” Robinson plays bass guitar, harmonica and vocals for N.E.D.
Tell me the story behind NED – how did this project come to be?
Dr. Robinson: In 2008, a planner at the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists wanted some entertainment as part of the annual professional meeting in Tampa, Fla. He called up some guys he knew and we decided to play some cover songs. We picked out songs on iTunes and learned about 25 songs.
We only practiced together once before we did the show. The response was amazing – the crowd just went nuts. We started getting requests from other organizations to play for them, and started to include a few original songs.
We released a CD in mid-2009 and it did better than any of us expected. All the proceeds went to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer and to Margie’s Fund. We released a second CD last year. Now we play every six weeks, two or three shows over a long weekend. That’s how we have to tour because our schedules are so busy.
After we released our last CD in 2011, Spark Media heard about us and wanted to make a documentary. They’ve been following us for the past year and a half, and will screen a preview of the documentary at the event on November 2.
Can you tell us more about the relationship NED has with the Foundation for Women’s Cancer?
Dr. Robinson: From the very beginning they were our earliest supporters, besides the Society for Gynecologic Oncology.
This is their weekend – the third National Race to End Women’s Cancer on Sunday, November 4, with free courses for survivors and physicians on Saturday. Our drummer, Dr. Nimesh Nageer will present “Music and Healing,” one lecture for survivors and one for a medical audience. He wrote a book about it and all the band members contributed chapters.
In the video trailer for NED, “burning out” in gynecologic surgery practice is mentioned. Combating physician burnout is a hot topic right now. Has NED given you a positive coping outlet to deal with that?
Dr. Robinson: Absolutely – it’s such a departure from what we normally do, and is therapeutic for us. That’s why we keep doing it.
All of us are burnt out in some sense. Sometimes the things we do are seemingly unrewarding, financially and emotionally. So much about medicine is getting very bureaucratic, and it gets frustrating at times.
But when I pick up my guitar case and walk to the airport, suddenly I’m not a doctor anymore, I’m a guitar player. So that’s a huge kick to be able to do that.
What does NED bring to the medical community as far as engagement and education?
Dr. Robinson: One hundred percent of our resources go to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer and Margie’s Fund. We are ambassadors. We play our part in putting gynecologic cancers into the public imagination in a way that it hasn’t been before.
We also want people to know about our specialty. Many patients, and even some physicians, still don’t know we exist. We have years of additional training, and studies show that women who are treated by a gynecologic oncologists have better outcomes.
And of course, survivors have been our biggest supporters. Doing this allows us to connect with them on a whole new level outside the doctor-patient relationship. It allows us to appreciate them in their needs in way that we wouldn’t have before.
What advice would you give to any clinical faculty, medical students or residents who want to find a more creative outlet to raise awareness and educate?
Dr. Robinson: Most physicians have some degree of artistic background or interest but tend to put that aside when we go into medicine. I would strongly encourage physicians to embrace your creative passion.
The recording studio told us that physicians make the best recording artists. We aren’t drunk or stoned; we’re on time; we want to do more takes. Physicians are just like that, we’re over achievers.
Other than the concert on Nov. 2, how can people get involved and participate?
Dr. Robinson: The best way to get involved is to register for the National Race to End Women’s Cancer 8K/1 mile walk on November 4. You can register at endwomenscancer.org. It’s a great event and we’ll all be there. This is more than a race, it’s a movement. And movements matter.
– Dr. Robinson is a Board-certified Gynecologic Oncologist. He served as faculty at Tulane University from 1992 to 1999, and then was in a combined academic/private practice in Amarillo, Texas from 1990 to 2010. He returned to New Orleans to help rebuild the community and improve the care of women with cancer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Foundation for Women’s Cancer is a non-profit organization dedicated to funding research and training, and ensuring education and public awareness of gynecologic cancer prevention, early detection and optimal treatment. For more information, visit: foundationforwomenscancer.org.
The National Race to End Women’s Cancer, an 8K/1 Mile Walk on November 4, 2012 in Washington, D.C., is the Foundation’s major annual awareness and fundraising event. Register at endwomenscancer.org.