Lifetime achievement award-winner’s own cancer journey was ‘tough, but short-lived’

Dr. Dhun Noria of Scarborough Hospital talks of her experience battling cancer

Dr. Dhun Noria is the Chief of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Director of Laboratories at the Scarborough Hospital. She's also a surgical and oncological pathologist and her office is located on Birchmount Road.  

It was Friday, but not just any Friday. It was Friday, May 13, 1994 — a day that changed Dr. Dhun Noria’s life forever.

“It’s forever imprinted in my mind,” Dr. Noria said. “For on that day, I was converted from a healthcare provider to a healthcare recipient. From a physician to a patient.”

Noria, who was recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent Scarborough World Gala Foundation organized by the Scarborough Hospital, is the chief of laboratory medicine and medical director of laboratories at the hospital.

She is also a two-time breast cancer survivor.

This was not her first award. She has been the recipient of the University of Toronto’s 25-year service award and was named businesswoman of 2004 by the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce – she has her own fashion jewellery business in India.

For Noria herself however, the latest award was a surprise.

“Everything I’ve done in my life has always been to do my best, whether it’s a small or big thing and that’s what my parents have taught me: to do my best without looking for rewards,” Dr. Noria said. “So, for me it was normal because I was just doing my work.”

Her cancer journey began in 1994, when her mammogram results came in, after she had discovered a lump the size of a grape in her left breast.

“The radiologist’s office was right next to mine. He asked me to come by his office to discuss my health report,” Noria said. “When I went to his office, he was in tears so I began consoling him. Then, I went back to my office, shut my door and shed my own pots of tears.”

Having discovered she had breast cancer, Noria was angry at first, but then she became afraid of what would happen to her children and husband.

“I’m a very passionate person, I like to do lots of things and cancer was not part of my plan. I still had lots to achieve,” she said.

After nine years of isolation and hiding the cancer from her colleagues, in 2003 it returned in the “same dress, about the same size” and this time, she was very afraid.

“After my discectomy, I underwent months and months of chemotherapy and this time having cancer was harder to hide, because chemo had taken its toll on my health,” Noria admitted. “My skin was this ash-and-gray hue, my hair had fallen off and I was feeling completely exhausted.”

But even during this time, she continued going to work, while treating the cancer at the same time.

As a surgical pathologist, Dr. Noria is responsible for giving patients accurate diagnosis. She says the toughest part of her work is dealing with difficult tumors, however if the case is tough, her principle is, "If not sure, I ask for help so that the best result goes to the patient, but we keep everyone informed."  On the mental part of her work, she says her biggest challenge is having to tell young people they have cancer.

As a surgical pathologist, Dr. Noria says the toughest part of her medical work is dealing with difficult tumours. But mentally her biggest challenge is having to tell young people they have cancer.

“This is a world of its own,” Noria said, referring to her work. “Whatever trouble you have, you don’t bring it to work, because you’re working in a very dynamic environment. I never felt like quitting because I wouldn’t know what else to do and I enjoy my work at The Scarborough Hospital.”

Gerry Phillips, who’s the Honourary Chair for the 2014 Gala has also served as MPP for the Scarborough-Agincourt riding for 24 years. He calls Noria’s contributions an “example of perseverance, commitment and philanthropy.”

“Dr. Noria has had an extraordinary career and has gone above and beyond for the community in countless ways,” Phillips said. “Her many accomplishments reflect her outstanding commitment to healthcare and to her community at large. She has made a meaningful and positive difference for the community.”

Noria has been living in Toronto with her family for almost 40 years. After finishing her medicine studies in India, she came to Toronto and did her fellowship, which was an extra four years of training, plus internship and then began her practice. With over 30 years of experience in the health care sector, she feels unstoppable.

“I’ve always been involved in volunteer work. In India when I was a young girl and in Canada when I came as a woman, I was always trying to help others,” she said. “Inspiration doesn’t come from one thing. It’ll be a collection of your thoughts, of how you were moulded as a child and the desire to do good for others and help them.”

As a surgical pathologist however, her biggest challenge is dealing with difficult tumours and diagnoses.

“My biggest fear is missing something,” Noria said. “Details are extremely important when doing diagnoses and we look at every cell because there’s a complete methodology in making diagnoses and protocol for reporting cancer,” she said, explaining how 80 per cent of all clinical decisions are based on the results of lab tests.

But what’s even more devastating to her is having to tell young patients they have cancer.

“I feel very upset when I’m making cancer diagnoses on young people because you just feel they have a full life ahead of them and why do you want to cut their life short? But I have no choice, but to tell them,” she said.

A snapshot of a photo in Dr. Noria's office. In her spare time, her favourite hobby is going for big-game fishing with her family and travelling around the world to see different countries. She also loves listening to classic music and her favourite radio station is 96.3.

A photo in Dr. Noria’s office shows her favourite hobby is big-game fishing with her family and travelling around the world to see different countries.

“It’s a life journey that you’ve tried to do your best in a new country, for which you are being rewarded, so that’s a recognition. But it shouldn’t go to your head,” she said.

All proceeds for the Cancer Care programs for the Scarborough World Gala Foundation will go for breast cancer support. This year’s goal is to raise $2 million.

About this article

By: Radina Vencheva
Copy editor: Jamie Anderson
Posted: Dec 10 2013 2:00 pm
Filed under: Features Profiles