Monday, March 06, 2006


All my life I have been regarded as a maverick. I prefer to say I have an independent mind. The term comes from Samuel A Maverick, a Texan cattle raiser, who did not bother to brand his cattle. Thus he could claim that all unbranded cattle belonged to him. Later on it was applied to politics; someone who was unbranded, who did not acknowledge any party leadership.

It's probably fair to categorise me like this, because I like to think things out for myself rather than rely on other people's opinions. When I was first appointed as a hematologist I refused to be confined to the laboratory but went about actively treating patients others thought untreatable. I took on diseases that the internal medicine specialists didn't understand like SLE and scleroderma. I thought the hematology textbooks of the day were full on nonsense. I started reporting what I saw rather than what the textbook told me I ought to be seeing.

Then I turned myself into a medical oncologist. I had trained as a hematologist and as an immunologist, but it became apparent the principles used to treat leukemias and lymphomas could be applied to solid tumors like breast and bowel cancers. At the time the only people claiming to be oncologists outside major cancer centers were radiotherapists. When surgeons began to refer patients with solid tumors to me rather than them they began to resent it and called me a cowboy oncologist. Rather childishly I responded by devising a regimen for bladder cancer that I named "Blazing Saddles".

I raise this subject because of something I picked up from a televison program. I don't know whether Inspector Frost is required watching in many households, but I am a sucker for TV detectives. Frost is an awkward customer who can't fit in with what his bosses want. His superintendant warns him, "It's alright being a maverick, Frost, as long as you keep coming up with the goods; but one failure and you're vulnerable"

Later Frost accepts an apology from his subordinate. " We can't have out of order, son, but out of step - that's another thing. If you're out of step you step on things that other people miss.."

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