By Jenny Song
An Advocate Finds His Community
Surviving kidney cancer fueled Eric Perakslis' passion to help cancer survivors
By Jenny Song
Once again, it was the questions that propelled him. “What am I going to do with the energy? What am I going to do with the angst? What am I going to do to ensure her future as well?”
For Perakslis, leading a bioinformatics group for the early drug development team at a biotechnology company has been part of the answer. He’s the vice president of research and development of informatics at Centocor R&D, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.
“It’s really about, where can I make the biggest impact [to get] the thing I want most in the world? And that’s a world without cancer,” he says. “Because it’s not going to happen to my daughter. And that’s something I’m part of making happen. It’s that simple.”
Perakslis has also found an outlet for his energy by serving the cancer community: helping the mother whose child has rhabdomyosarcoma or providing support to a kidney cancer patient. He spends a couple of hours each week talking to strangers—patients and caregivers—who call after being referred to him by the Kidney Cancer Association (KCA) or hearing about him through a friend. He’ll talk about whatever is on their minds, whether it’s finding a clinical trial, asking for advice or coping with stress.
“Each conversation is a little different,” Perakslis says. “The thing that’s the same is I always end up listening a lot more than I speak, which just makes sense. And half the time it’s probably about helping them feel better about the decisions they already know they should make.”
People are drawn to him because “he keeps it real,” says Perakslis’ wife, Lisa. “He helps them to take baby steps and to breathe.”
And while Perakslis relates to patients as a survivor, his doctorate in chemical and biochemical engineering also gives him a fundamental understanding of science. That makes Perakslis an ideal communicator, says Bill Bro, the chief executive officer of the KCA. “He’s really able to bridge the gap between patients and science,” says Bro, noting that this particular talent is the reason he frequently asks Perakslis to represent the KCA as a patient advocate at scientific meetings.
“He has a feel for people,” concurs Paula Bowen, the chairwoman of the KCA’s board of directors. “He knows when to talk the scientific jargon and when to talk the layperson jargon.”