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    Alyx B. Porter, M.D.

    MEANINGFUL CONNECTIONS. Built for this moment.

    Pioneering innovative approaches to neuro-oncology and patient advocacy

    Alyx B. Porter, M.D.

    Neurologist, Associate Professor of Neurology, Outpatient Practice Chair, Mayo Clinic, Arizona, and Medical Director, Plummer Scholars Program

    Phoenix, Arizona

    I am inspired every single day. Every single day there is a patient that humbles me so much. When you get a diagnosis of brain cancer, the fact that they even have to meet someone like me, or they see that they’re visiting with a neuro-oncologist, it is the scariest time. So, I use the gifts that I think that I’ve been given to try to put them at ease. I want people to experience the very best care that they can in an environment where they feel like they can trust and belong. Because if you are not able to connect with the person in a way that gets them to open up about what their concerns are, you’ve failed. Sometimes people ask me, how can you sit across from people and have hard conversations? But the truth is, how can I not? I believe that I’m doing exactly what I was built for.

    I realized early on that I was different. It created in me, a bit of that pioneering spirit, and a willingness to do some things that require a little bit of bravery.

    As Dr. Alyx Porter looks across the Arizona landscape, she sees memories along the horizon. “I learned to drive right here, on the property that is now Mayo Clinic in Arizona, when it was open desert,” she says. “Every day I’m reminded of how close I am and how far I’ve come.”

    Dr. Porter, a neurologist and prominent leader within the Mayo Clinic enterprise, acknowledges her unique journey. “My parents moved to Phoenix right before I was born,” she says. “We were the only Black family for miles. And I realized early on that I was different. It created in me, a bit of that pioneering spirit, and a willingness to do some things that require a little bit of bravery. It also gave me the ability to be the only or first or one of the few, and not feel totally out of place because, truly, it’s all I’ve known.”

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    Now, she is credited with sowing the seeds for what has become a world-class neuro-oncology center dedicated to innovation, research, and inclusion at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. The depth and breadth of her leadership appointments at Mayo Clinic allows her to bring a unique perspective to everything she does. She is the chair of the executive operating team of outpatient practice for Mayo Clinic in Arizona, and is the medical director of the Plummer Scholars Program. This cross-functional integration allows her to approach problems in new and different ways for her patients. “Fundamentally, when we think about innovation, it’s creating something new and filling a need,” she says.

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    Neuro-oncology encompasses more than brain cancer. It also deals with issues related to the spinal cord and nerves. Because it affects so much of the body, neuro-oncology focuses on overall quality of life for patients. Dr. Porter and her team are at the forefront of cancer care that takes a holistic approach, including improving community engagement through clinical trials, new research, and pathway programs to build trust and bridge gaps.

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    One way Dr. Porter is working to build trust is through a course she developed called Cultural Humility, at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Arizona, which she created there and taught for five years. “Cultural Humility is part of our medical school curriculum that not only builds understanding, but also teaches compassionate communication,” she says. “The course is broken into two parts: The first is about approaching every encounter with curiosity, recognizing that the only cultural background in which we’re an expert is our own. The second is about acknowledging differences, whether it’s health literacy or socioeconomic factors.” The course teaches students to ask open-ended questions in a way that builds trust, breaks down barriers, and eliminates preconceptions.

    “Because heaven forbid,” she adds, “you spend 30 minutes with a patient, and you never get to the root of the issue. It’s one thing to be smart. But if you’re unable to connect with the person who has trusted you with their care, if you’re unable to get them to talk honestly about their concerns, you’ve failed. Nobody cares what your test scores were. No one cares if you understand the pharmacokinetics of a certain drug. That becomes completely irrelevant if you’ve failed at communication.”

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    I have a unique ability to put a patient at ease. Even if the news isn’t something they want to hear. And I realize that’s not something everyone can do.”

    And that’s where Dr. Porter excels. “I have a unique ability to put a patient at ease. Even if the news isn’t something they want to hear. And I realize that’s not something everyone can do,” she says. “I can absolutely teach students what a certain chemotherapy will and won’t do. But the most important thing I can teach them is how to sit in uncomfortable moments and ask questions in a way that’s going to help their critical decision making.”

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    For Dr. Porter, building trust is crucial to her work because of the gravity of her patients’ diagnoses. “A patient diagnosed with brain cancer experiences the health care system at their most vulnerable time. They are scared of this new reality, mourning the life they envisioned, and worrying about the repercussions of it all,” she says. “With that level of vulnerability, it’s important for people to feel like they belong.”

    “Sometimes I’m asked, how can you sit across from patients and have those hard conversations every single day? “The truth is, how can I not?” she says. By using her gifts of communication and connection, Dr. Porter can give patients answers and options. One way is by offering aggressive cancer treatment while honoring the patient’s comfort and lifestyle. “It’s a privilege for me to provide some education, some hope, some expectation. I tell every single patient, your quality of life is what’s most important to me.” To help patients feel informed and empowered to navigate life after a brain tumor diagnosis, accurate information is essential. “When someone hears brain tumor, often the first step is searching the internet,” she says. That’s why she decided to combat half-truths and false resources by writing her own book, grounded in truth, called Navigating Life with a Brain Tumor.

    “Dr. Porter is grateful that every patient at Mayo Clinic has a multidisciplinary team. “We provide the best care by working across disciplines; neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, and other areas a patient may need.” This collaboration allows Dr. Porter to consult with other experts to gain new perspectives affecting her patient’s total care. “Our team-based approach allows me to take a step back for a moment and see the situation clearly from other angles. That helps me form the best care plan for the patient,” she says. “And just as the team shares clinical care of the patient, we also share some of the emotion. When I think about the team here and the quality of care that we give, it is unparalleled.”

    There’s an old African proverb that says, if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together. Mayo Clinic is about going together.
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    She and her team continue to contribute to advancements in neuro-oncological research. She recently published a study on reducing fatigue and improving quality of life for patients with glioblastoma. This aggressive tumor has a high rate of morbidity and is difficult to control. Although the treatment approach was not as successful as they had hoped, she and her team are proud to have contributed to the next step in treatment for glioblastoma.

    What does Dr. Porter hope to see for the future? “Fundamentally, what I want my legacy to be is very simple and very narrow,” she says. “I want people to experience the very best care in an environment they trust and feel like they belong. That includes an environment where the word underrepresented won’t be necessary, because we will have representation at all levels of care.” She credits and applauds Mayo Clinic with helping her pursue that goal. “There’s an old African proverb that says, if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together. Mayo Clinic is about going together.”


    Empowering patients, innovating treatments, and building diversity define Dr. Alyx Porter’s approach to medicine. Dr. Porter is known in her field of neuro-oncology for offering aggressive cancer treatment while honoring the patient’s comfort and lifestyle. A firm believer in the value of a holistic caretaking team, she and a colleague developed a support tool that helps patients navigate day-to-day challenges that often come with cancer treatment.

    Learn more about Dr. Porter
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    Department of Neurology

    Mayo Clinic offers the latest in neurological care with innovative therapies, new techniques and clinical trials developed by our world-class experts. Our neurologists help more than 100,000 adults and children each year, including those with complex or rare conditions.

    Learn more about the Department of Neurology
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    Department of Oncology

    Oncology at Mayo Clinic is one of the largest, most comprehensive cancer diagnosis and treatment programs in the world. Our oncologists collaborate with experts in all other departments to provide coordinated and integrated, multidisciplinary care to people with cancer.

    Learn more about the Department of Oncology
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    The Brain Tumor Program at Mayo Clinic

    The Mayo Clinic Brain Tumor Program — available at the clinic’s campuses in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota — offers personalized, comprehensive, expert care to people with brain tumors.

    Learn more about the Brain Tumor Program at Mayo Clinic
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    Understanding brain tumors

    Brain metastases occur when cancer cells spread from their original site to the brain. Any cancer can spread to the brain, but the types most likely to cause brain metastases are lung, breast, colon, kidney and melanoma.

    Learn more about brain tumors
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    May is Brain Tumor Awareness Month

    May is Brain Tumor Awareness Month. On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Alyx Porter, co-chair of the Central Nervous System Tumor Disease Group at Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center, discusses the various types of brain tumors and how they are diagnosed and treated.

    Learn more about Brain Tumor Awareness Month in May
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    Shaping the future generation of physicians

    Mayo Clinic News Network profiled several Mayo Clinic physicians focused on achieving health equity through their work. Meet Dr. Alyx Porter, a neuro-oncologist who is working to help shape the next generation of physicians.

    Learn more about how Dr. Porter is shaping the future generation of physicians

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