This month, oncologist and cancer educator Dr. Sanjay Juneja received an invitation to participate in the upcoming Healthcare Leaders in Social Media Routable Series. Requested personally by the administrative staff at The White House, the extended invitation recognizes Dr. Sanjay Juneja’s work as a respected voice in the social media space.

With over 500,000+ followers on social media, Dr. Juneja is known as ‘TheOncDoc’ across social media platforms, including Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook. He has been featured in The Washington Post, regional news channels (PBS, CBS, NBC, NPR), and on social media for MTV, PureWow, DailyMail, and Dr. Mike.

Check our convo below!

Thank you for taking the time to speak with Bello magazine. Tell us about your journey into becoming a medical professional? What made you get into the medical field? From there, what inspired you to kick off a presence in social media as @TheOncDoc?

So actually always wanted to be a middle school teacher. I loved the way that, once you understand science–from how tires on the road and friction work, to why the wind blows a certain direction and rain precipitates–you just better appreciate the beauty and intricacies of the world around you. But then I got into a car accident in high school that rendered me legally blind for several weeks. I thought it was strange that when people asked me, “weren’t you so scared that you would never see again?”, that in fact I was not, but wasn’t sure why. Then I realized it was because my ophthalmologist really taught me every single thing, from what exactly was injured and not working properly, to why we are using the eyedrops and mechanically what they would do to the eye and the problematic pressure, and what our many goals were week to week. It was with this process that I realized the same principle of education also applied to fear and uncertainty. The more you understand about a process, the more you are empowered and feeling control. The word “doctor” does mean, after all, “teacher” and Latin. Where else is that arguably more important than when it comes to cancer or cancer diagnosis. The same concept translates into the reason for my social media engagement. I think it is about time to try and desensitize, as well as myth bust, a lot of things that are misunderstood when it comes to an otherwise fairly common and already intimidating subject.

What is your most memorable moment to date after launching social media platforms and creating educational and fun content?

Probably when my 5-year-old son at the time came home from school one day and asked, “daddy, why are people saying you are tick tock famous? and what does it have to do with a clock?”  It was just this almost dissociative full circle, because at that point I certainly would not describe myself as ‘famous’–still don’t, really–but that to that it was in the ear of my young son in preschool who apparently had heard that a few times by then.  I also remember being at a residency reunion in Miami, and it was almost 3 AM that we were leaving a venue after talking all night, that on the street corner someone who looked pretty young came up to me and said, “I just feel that I have to share I really appreciate and enjoy what you are doing on social media. I have learned a lot and I know many people at our hospital feel the same way.”  I asked if they were in school studying to be in medicine, and they replied “I am actually a pediatric oncology fellow in Philly and in training now.” One, I just didn’t expect to hear that, and two, I realized I’m getting old.

xCures is developing an AI-based methodology and platform to run ‘Virtual Trials’, which continuously learn from the clinical experiences of all patients, on all treatments, all the time. Each patient’s treatment regimen is adaptively planned by a ‘Virtual Tumor Board’ to optimize their individual outcome, and these plans are coordinated across the whole patient population to maximize collective learning.

As an online personality with a medical background, what do you hope to accomplish the most?

Bridge the gap between what we know in medicine and how people are treated when it comes to their health and healthcare across the country. The healthcare system as far–far–from perfect and I worry it will get worse before it gets better. This unfortunately requires patients to be their own advocates to a degree, especially depending on where they live.  So by providing education, patients with cancer and their families can either have peace of mind knowing the way they are being managed is the standard of care–and arguably just as importantly understand and learn about the process more than they may be able to during a short visit; or have the information they need to perhaps seek or direct investigation to optimizing their care. I have also recently been able to be involved with some exceptionally innovative pursuits by altruistic start of some companies that are hoping to do the same bridging and optimization of cancer care in our country.

Are there other social media accounts you hope to collaborate with.

I watched a lot of ZdoggMD in residency and fellowship, far before I ever suspected social media would serendipitously come into my life, so I’d be ecstatic about that. Dr. Mike, Peter Attia are doing great things in the space too. But outside medicine, Gary Vee and Joe Rogan are basically the holy grail.

Have there been any impactful comments / responses from your fans? Any story you can share that touched your heart?

Oh man, so many. This is what keeps me going / makes the fewer hours of sleep these days worth it.  From the hematology/blood side, I had a follower in their 20s they were up to 3-4 “centrally acting medications”, basically sedation/downers of sorts, for their debilitating restless leg syndrome.  And because of the meds they were on disability even though they loved their work. After seeing my video on iron deficiency being a potential cause for restless legs, she had her iron checked ensure no further is quite iron deficient from her heavy menstrual cycles, and after iron repletion literally was off all medications and back to work after 4 months. This happens all the time it comes to restless legs–I have received several. From the cancer side, I still remember the first time I get a message after another spouse had passed away after a several-months battle with cancer. They shared with me that they were grateful for the content that I was providing and were watching it regularly to learn about cancer, and that somehow it made the whole process more digestible acceptable. This type message I too have received a few times since then, but the fact it always comes in sometime after their loved one had passed away makes it particularly humbling.

You have recently started working with the organization xCures? Can you tell us about your involvement with them? What should people know about the company?

So Xcures is exactly like one of the companies I mentioned earlier. Has a community oncologist, my mind has been blown with how hard people are working and what kind of advanced enervation is happening to try and ameliorate the problems I see in practice on a regular basis. Similar to how I provide education hoping that in some corner of the country where oncologist are limited and fervently trying to keep up with the demands of the community, someone may be able to improve their care by taking a new recent indication to their doctor–they are trying to achieve the same by offering a free service that uses insane artificial intelligence based on all of the records and imaging and molecular profile of their cancer to outline all of the most up-to-date standard of care treatments, as well as what line, is available for their cancer to date. This again achieves both peace of mind but also potentially optimize care in areas not privy to academic centers or oncologist-heavy communities.  On the other side, we are so very behind on having data proven recommendations for specific patients as they succeed and fail certain treatment lines and get deeper into their treatment course. Whereas studies and data that we do have available are usually put on by specific companies, hospitals, organizations; this is one way to aggregate all data collectively so that we can move the needle forward on having a data-proven understanding and somewhat personally-relevant treatment plans to better treat and control cancer based on the collective experience.

When you’re not busy working, what do you like to do in your free time? Anything you suggest that would be helpful for those that want to work on mental health?

By far the thing I enjoy most is being dad. I have three boys under 6 years old that I love rolling around on the ground with and getting in the minds of. It’s both cathartic and therapeutic, and helps me disengage from the stresses of very difficult daily decisions with cancer care as well as the several things I have waiting for me to do in the voicemails, texts, emails, etc.  I also love playing basketball and boxing.  I think if someone wants to protect her mental health and is working very hard with their professional endeavors, it is important to say yes more often to family and social opportunities. It is never convenient, and often stressful until the moment you get there, but once you are there and then heading back, it is very rare that you regret going. Sometimes you literally have to force yourself away from your work. But on daily day-to-day life, there is just an absolutely overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest even short meditation or breathing exercises in the morning go insanely far for your mental and overall physical health.  Take colder showers if you have to, also tries to achieve the same thing with the parasympathetic system and vagal nerve. And you have to get some cardio at least 3 times a week. Not for weight or fat loss or anything else, but just to drive up that stress release and endorphin system. And nothing, and I mean nothing, is more important than good sleep. And being a little bit of a hypocrite here, but the evidence is overwhelming that it is during deep REM and extended sleep that you clear your brain and neurologic toxins, which obviously was a long way. If you have trouble sleeping, waking up earlier and doing cardio or exercise of any sort will help you desire that sleep sooner.

If you could trade places with someone for the week (dead or alive), who would you pick and why?

Honestly Nikola Tesla. The guy was literally ahead of his time some people still believe he visited this world through a time machine, or was like some alien. I cannot imagine a more salient landscape of innervation and the challenges that come with it than what he had to come up with and put into motion, and that too likely with his share of people wanting to see him fail.  He was also six-foot two, so that would be cool.

What upcoming projects can you talk about?

I am really excited about being the host for the “TARGET: Cancer”podcast this season. I have had a litany of people suggest starting my own podcast, but getting to be on this platform far exceeds anything I could have done on my own from the ground up.  I get to talk to literally the biggest leaders and innovators in the cancer space, social media superstars, and patients that have won over millions of people with their coverage and transparency of their cancer journey in the online space. And all for the sole purpose of making people feel more comfortable in their understanding about cancer, where we are going, how it is just so vastly different than what it was in the past and, hopefully, improving someone’s care, in some corner of the world, on a daily basis. I also have projects and outreach initiatives with the medical learning Institute, leukemia and lymphoma Society, where we try to democratize reliable medical information in a digestible way, as well as some projects revolving around helping the burden some financial landscape for loan-ridden physicians and mail-in pharmacies to help lower costs of mounting healthcare expenses.

Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Mostly just that if you have ever thought about sharing your voice in the online or social media space, just go for it. One, I truly believe in purpose and a ‘will of the world’ of sorts, and if you have that feeling then it is something likely calling you.  There is someone, somewhere, that needs to hear or learn something in the very specific and unique way that you would share it.  That is the crazy thing, concepts and certain bodies of thoughts overlap everywhere, but the exact way in the exact fashion that it is delivered can be so unique for someone that it is only you that can help them receive it.  Go be that for somebody. You’ll also learn a lot about yourself.

Photo credit: xCures