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Dr. Maky Zanganeh: From healthcare industry leader to breast cancer patient

Dr. Maky Zanganeh book cover

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There has been a lot of progress in the research, but more needs to happen. To help raise awareness and support, Dr. Maky Zanganeh kindly contributes the following guest post about her story.

Guest post from Dr. Maky Zanganeh

The definition of “life” is quite simple: constant change and unpredictability. When you are at the height of your career in oncology research and launching the most innovative oncology drug, it’s hard to imagine yourself having to put up with chemotherapy with all its side effects.

When I was at the bottom of my fight against cancer, I couldn’t imagine that I could reach the “peak” again and get back to my normal life. After many years being a part of an oncology biotech company and trying to help many patients, in December 2019, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

From CEO of oncology pharmaceutical to breast cancer patient

I learned what it felt like to be a patient by becoming one: the pain, suffering, and hoping for a miracle. Every part of my breast cancer was scary, getting the announcement, going through the treatments (Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy), getting used to my new look of non-existent hair, non-existent eyelashes, and eyebrows, and then settling for my short hair and trying to get back with a new perspective to my life as a businesswoman.

All these years working in the field of oncology, trying to bring patient-friendly oncology therapy into the market and in the hand of patients in need, trying to replace chemotherapy and radiotherapy with targeted therapy and immunotherapy. I learned a lot about cancer patients and their spirits… I learned a lot about cancer treatments and treatment options… I learned that trying to fight the cancer, you have to aim high and go for a cure as long as the body can handle it… In other words, fight till the end and never giving up.

I learned that 2% chance is not 0% chance. But the truth is when I got my own cancer and I took care of my father who died from cancer, I realized that progress and innovation must take care of the most basic needs.

We may have invented, innovated, created anti-cancer drugs, but it is everything else that gives the prognosis, and we should consider that. A lot of cancer patients will not die because of cancer but the side effect of cancer… like infection, prolongation of bed stay and their consequence, alteration of microbiota, digestive intolerance and its complications, mycosis, which in turn creates undernutrition that aggravates immunity, a circle that nobody can get out of it.

Giving credit to scientists, physicians, and patients

I [think] a lot of credit needs to be given to all scientists working in biotech and pharmaceutical companies trying their best to bring a drug with a minimum of side effects and maximum of efficacity into the hands of the patient trying to bring oral therapy drugs that allow patients to stay home or travel during their treatment instead being dependent to the hospital on daily or weekly basis.

I give a lot of credit to all physicians who are treating cancer patients and helping them to reduce their pain and suffering. By joining the “cancer community” as a patient, I have more compassion than ever for cancer patients who accept to be a part of clinical trials and accept to help us in the progress of science and innovation in the field of oncology. I admired their courage even more and cannot thank them enough for participating in our clinical trials all these years.

That is why I want to dedicate this article to all patients. I refer to them as “heroes,” whose lives have been interrupted by cancer, and have not had the chance to taste the return to normal life again. Despite a fierce struggle on a daily basis, for those who suffer from everyday treatment in hospitals, for those who transport with stretcher becomes the only means of transport and being in a wheelchair becomes a dream that will never be fulfilled…

…For those who can no longer swallow water and food with their dry mouth… For those who their nutrition and life depends on the one and only central venous catheter when all the other venous lines are blocked by chemotherapy or by infection… And for those who fought till the end, by keeping their hope and positive attitude… And finally to the ones who believed in miracles…. All they wanted was to return to the “Magic of Normal.”

A few last words from Dr. Maky Zanganeh

To be honest, I do not wish anyone to have to go through what I went through. Although I can assure you that it was an experience that opened my eyes to my own life, putting the value of life and the importance of time into perspective.

As Bob Marley said, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”

More about Dr. Maky Zanganeh

Thank you for being here! Dr. Zanganeh was recognized in the “CEO appointments – 21 women who made CEO in 2022” article in Business Chief.  It was noted in this article that “…women represent just 15% of chief executives employed by Fortune 500 companies, equaling 74 female chiefs, while globally, just 5% of chiefs are female.”

Dr. Zanganeh is the recipient of many awards and honors too. Among them are the Fierce Biotech “2013 Top Women in Biotech” award, and the Ernst & Young company “Entrepreneur of the Year” 2013 award.

She was Honored Speaker at the United Nations Women and Girls in Science Meeting in February 2022 in conversation. She was also honored as one of the Top 10 Influential Chief Operating Officers of 2021.

Dr. Maky Zanganeh will be a keynote speaker to share the stories in her memoir The Magic of Normal at multiple conferences and companies, including Medable, an elite company named to the CNBC 2022 Disruptor List. She will speak at the Iranian American Women Foundation (IAWF) Leadership Conference on October 16, 2022.

Her leadership accomplishments include taking on the role of Chief Operating Officer at Pharmacyclics, a company developing a game-changing medication for a range of blood cancers. She led this struggling biotech company to a multimillion-dollar collaboration and license deal for the drug with Johnson & Johnson and the subsequent sale of the company for $21 billion in 2015. That was the second-largest biopharma sale ever in the industry at that time.

As if all of this is not enough, Dr. Maky Zanganeh is multilingual. She is fluent in French, German, Farsi, and English. She is also a published author, recently releasing her book entitled The Magic of Normal. I look forward to reading it soon!

7 thoughts on “Dr. Maky Zanganeh: From healthcare industry leader to breast cancer patient”

  1. Wow! This is really an emotional read. Having done some good research on home remedies for cancer, especially breast, colon, prostate cancers, i can imagine what it would be like, being a patient myself. Thanks to Dr Maky Zanganeh for bringing hope to the seemingly helpless ones.

    1. It’s true what you say about the impact of breast cancer, whether as a patient, a loved one of someone going through the struggle, a co-worker, a member of the same church… Thank you, Dorothy, for taking the time to read Maky Zanganeh’s story and to appreciate what life lessons she shares here xx

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