A hematologist raises funds for cancer treatment
As a hematologist-in-training and avid cyclist, Thomas Ollila RES’16 F’19, MD, looked forward each year to a Rhode Island bike-a-thon that raised funds for cancer treatment. Then, in 2018, it stopped. So he did what any third-year fellow with no fundraising or organizing experience would do: he started his own annual charity ride, to support the Brown University Oncology Research Group (BrUOG), which coordinates clinical cancer trials in the state. Ollila juggled research and patients and parenthood while learning “how to insure an event, market an event, get approval from both local municipalities and the state, and lay out a course, and mark it,” Ollila says.
“It was quite a bit of work.” The first Tour de Rhody raised $18,000 for BrUOG; the third ride, last year, netted $97,000, and a team of volunteers took most of the organizing off Ollila’s plate. Now an assistant professor of medicine who’s teaching hem/onc fellows himself, he’s building a study to pitch to BrUOG, of treatments to target genetic subtypes that increase risk of CNS relapse in certain lymphomas.
“We have improved treatment options all the time,” one reason Ollila chose his field. He also was motivated by personal loss: his father died of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. “I saw everything he went through,” Ollila says. “He lived 17 years with it. That wouldn’t have been possible many years ago. … Since he’s passed, there’s been amazing advances in CLL. It’s that research and moving forward that also drives what I do.”
Tom, wife Abygail, Vera, and 6-year-old Evelyn enjoy biking together, but “they all kind of roll their eyes at me for how much I like it,” he admits.
Time Management Triage
Ideally Ollila would allot more time to research, but he’s a clinician first. “If it’s working on a manuscript versus patients who really need help, that manuscript gathers dust,” he says.
As an associate program director of the hem/onc fellowship, Ollila works with BrUOG to assign fellows to each new protocol, so they “learn how trials come from inception to practice,” he says.
Tour De Donut
Ollila and daughter Vera, 10, pedal the East Bay Bike Path on a tandem donated by Dunkin’ last year.
Sign up to ride or volunteer in the fourth Tour de Rhody this fall at TourDeRhody.com.