Tribute to Libni J. Eapen given by Jason Pantarotto at the 2020 Annual Scientific Meeting of the Canadian Association of Radiation Oncology (CARO)
September 24th, 2020
Libni Eapen, a fixture of the cancer centre in Ottawa for over 38 years, passed away last week. He leaves behind his wife Juno and their two children Tamina and Taran. The group here is heartbroken. For those of you that have either sent messages of condolences or contributed to his virtual memorial board I give my thanks on behalf of our entire program. I also want to thank the ASM committee for this time to honour Libni’s memory.
Many of you knew Libni. Perhaps you knew him from his time at PMH. Or perhaps you volunteered your time with him at the Royal College during his time there as an Examiner and Chief Examiner. Or perhaps you also treated GU, ENT or skin cancers and saw Libni at various meetings or collaborated with him. Some of you have told me that you met him in Ottawa, and either you were trained by him or you were inspired by him (and many times both!). And I know lots of you have shared Libni’s enthusiasm for sports and perhaps shares tennis experiences or tease him on how the Sens were doing. I don’t need to tell you what an honourable, decent and lovely man Libni was.
But many of you didn’t know Libni. I’d like to tell you a little bit about him. He was a physician first and an oncologist second. He valued a proper physical exam, even to the point of having one of those classic physician’s black leather medical bags and carrying it in the centre with him from clinic to clinic. He took time to really talk and connect with patients. He treated everyone around him with respect. He was the quintessential radiation oncologist – analytical, empathic and quirky. Libni loved to teach and he was quite good at it. You would often find a resident with him in his office on a Friday afternoon, getting grilled on head and neck anatomy or dose constraints (or in my case how to do a 3D conformal Head and neck technique with electron matching over the cord). In fact Libni would have been tickled to know that he was being memorialized at the start of the resident’s session at CARO. He always had time for residents.
Libni believed in collaboration. He saw a world that was bigger than just radiation oncology. There was an espresso machine in his office that got regular use, and his office was the unofficial lounge for oncologists in the centre. The only thing flowing more freely than coffee in his office were ideas. Libni was an ideas man. “Libni the Thinker”. “Libni the Innovator”. He had ideas that turned into research studies, ideas that improved care for patients here in Ottawa and some ideas that went nowhere -- but that didn’t stop him from coming up with more ideas! This is the person who we lost last week.
It’s fitting, then, that Libni’s final publication appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine, just 2 weeks before his death. He was listed as a co-author but it was his ideas that drove the project and his extensive list of contacts that brought the co-authors together. The topic? Well it had nothing to do with cancer. The title is “Salivary Detection of COVID-19”. While most of us were trying to figure out how to manage cancer in the era of a pandemic, he was thinking about ways to improve the diagnosis of COVID-19 using saliva samples.
Quite the individual indeed!
So with that, I leave you with two closing thoughts:
Libni believed that being a radiation oncologist was one of the best jobs in the world, and it didn’t close doors, it opened doors. We should all share that perspective.
Each of us will impact thousands of patients and their families during the course of our career. We all have the potential to impact many, many more by imparting our wisdom and skills to those we train. Libni lived by that and we are richer for it.
Thank you for listening and remembering my colleague and friend, Libni Eapen.
From Jason Pantarotto