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Trailblazer was New Brunswick’s first oncologist

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Dr. Sheldon Rubin

Dr. Sheldon Rubin, a trailblazing doctor who became New Brunswick’s first oncologist, died on Aug. 13, at the age of 75.

“I felt I was married to a hero,” Sharon Rubin, his wife of 45 years, told the CBC. “He was just a wonderful, wonderful, loving man. He loved his family and he loved his profession and his patients. I really felt I was married to a hero.”

Rubin, who treated thousands of patients for cancer and blood disorders, recently retired after 41 years in the business. He graduated from Dalhousie University medical school in Halifax in 1967 and did four years of residency and training in Halifax and two years at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, before returning home in 1975 to work as an oncologist at Moncton Hospital. The next year, he established a chemotherapy clinic there, to treat patients in eastern New Brunswick.

In 1988, he set up the first comprehensive hemophilia clinic in the province, in conjunction with the New Brunswick Hemophilia Society. Rubin also started the first HIV clinical treatment program in the province and the first hepatitis C program.

When he retired in 2016, Moncton Hospital renamed its oncology clinic, a facility he built from nothing, the Dr. Sheldon Rubin Oncology Clinic.

“I trained in internal medicine, then hematology, which, when I was in med school, I thought would be the best fit,” Rubin told The CJN in 2016. “I wanted to practice in the Maritimes and, with little hematology in New Brunswick, found Moncton to be the best option.”

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As the first hematologist in Moncton, he had much freedom in setting up the program the way he wanted, but he said that he “had to prove to the hospital’s executive that what I was doing was important and deserving of support.”

Rubin’s life-long friend, Irwin E. Lampert, called him “a caring, compassionate individual, who was devoted to his patients. He was a very special person who got great satisfaction and rewards from prolonging the lives of patients as long as he could. He never gave up. He was so committed and dedicated to his patients that many say he saved their lives. He worked long and exhausting hours to care for his patients.”

Lampert also said Rubin was a devoted member of the Moncton Jewish community and a generous supporter of the synagogue.

Moncton Times & Transcript columnist David Gauvin wrote that, “The greatest tribute to his legacy is found in the lives of New Brunswickers he saved from illnesses that not long ago would have meant a near-certain death sentence. Thanks to Dr. Rubin’s hard work and dedication, the stories of thousands of families have happier endings than they might have had without him.”

Dr. Mahmoud Abdelsalam, the current chief of oncology and hematology at Moncton Hospital, said that, “It was a great honour to work with him because actually you learned from him how to give more than medical care to your patient – how to give them love and moral support.”

There are many stories about Rubin’s kindness, he said. “He bought a bicycle for a young boy who lost his mom to cancer. He attended a high school graduation for a patient with a short time left. So he was not only a physician treating his patients, he gave them lots of support in other ways.”

Rubin received many honours, including the Order of New Brunswick, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and the New Brunswick Medical Society’s Dr. Garfield Moffatt Medal for excellence in patient care.

“I got many notes thanking me for allowing him to spend his days and his nights taking care of them,” said Sharon Rubin. “His heart was in the right place. He had to do what he had to do.”

He could get angry if things weren’t done properly, she said, but he always acted in the best interests of his patients and he would want to be remembered “as a fine physician who had very, very high principles and he stuck by them.”