An Interview With New CEO Laura Kerby

Myeloma UK news // 19th May 2020

It’s been just over two weeks since Laura Kerby joined Myeloma UK as our new CEO. We took the opportunity to ask her some of the questions that supporters and the Myeloma UK team have sent in to get her know her better

What drew you to Myeloma UK?

I have worked in healthcare for over 20 years and my passion has always been to help patients to live as well as they can for as long as they can. Having spent the last six years leading a cancer charity I have met hundreds of patients and I have found many of their stories inspirational, so it was important to me to stay in the cancer field and find an authentic patient centric charity that was making a significant difference. Myeloma UK absolutely does and I am privileged to be their new Chief Executive.

Why is Myeloma UK different from any other charity?

Myeloma UK has pioneered hopeful futures for patients and has had an incredible success in ensuring access to new treatments through unrivalled advocacy. We have deep rooted knowledge of the unmet needs of myeloma patients and have taken a determined approach to addressing those needs across the diagnostic and treatment pathways.

I think what is particularly unique is that we have taken a 360- degree view of patients and their families to understand the complete support package required including education of healthcare professionals, patient information, peer to peer support and leading-edge treatment.

You have been deeply involved with the experience of cancer patients for the last six years. What has that taught you that resonates the most with you?

I think there are two things that immediately come to mind – firstly that society has not found a language to talk openly about cancer and talk to people who have cancer. As a result, I have had lots of conversations with patients about how isolating a cancer experience can be. At worse, patients experience stigma associated with the disease and can be culturally ostracized as a result, and at best everyday conversation becomes very uncomfortable. For me, I’ve learnt an incredible amount from patients which has enabled me to find different ways to mindfully converse and engage and to try and craft new language, particularly on difficult topics to talk about.

Secondly, I live my life more spiritually and mindfully than I ever had– I learnt Tai Chi alongside patient groups and will often use it to calm my mind. I try to appreciate the small yet significant things in my life and I realise I have much to be grateful for.

What is your vision for myeloma patients?

At the moment, I see two key areas where the brilliant work Myeloma UK does needs to focus – hopeful patient futures and empowering patient support.
Hopeful patient futures mean patients having access the right treatments when they need them. To achieve this, we need a strong treatment pipeline and to provide robust support for treatment appraisals. Both require a commitment to financial investment in research and an expert knowledge of the treatment appraisal process.

Empowering patient support is all about improving today for patients. Myeloma patients need to be at the centre of care planning and need the right information and emotional support at every stage. This also means enabling delivery of best practices for myeloma patient care at at GP and hospital level. We always need to make sure that patients are living as well as they possibly can be.

What are your immediate plans?

I am fully immersing myself into the charity to learn from everybody involved about how we continue to offer excellent patient advocacy based on the patient need. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic there is significant uncertainty in the whole cancer space which means I will be working extremely hard with the team to make sure myeloma patients do not become a forgotten group. We will do everything we can to understand the impact the pandemic is having on patients today and to anticipate the future implications.

What do you think the biggest challenges are for charities are right now?

COVID -19 has been game changing – many charities are being relied on heavily to support beneficiaries at a time when they are simply unable to generate sufficient funds to cover core costs, let alone the high demand for services.

The financial impact of COVID-19 on the health economy will need to be carefully navigated and every charity will be challenged on their agility of thinking and ability to adapt over the next 18-24 months.

Are there any other charities or leaders that you admire, and why?

I have a disabled nephew called Jacob; he is 19 years old and my sister has had challenges on finding provision for him after schooling. There is a charity called National Star College who are a further education college for people with physical disabilities, acquired brain injuries and learning difficulties. Without it, young adults like Jacob would not be able learn the social skills he needs to optimise his future life choices. I am full of admiration for the good work they do and the difference they have made to my family’s life.

As for leaders, I have always admired Nelson Mandela who, despite the adversity he faced, managed to rise above it all to offer people hope and ultimately balance inequity in human rights. His quote that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” resonates with me. I think we can always learn and grow and hope that I demonstrate that in my leadership.

In general, what motivates you in life? What makes you happy?

As well as my large extended family, who I adore, I have two loves;

Rescuing animals – so we have three cats and one dog (at the moment!) and I love their mischief and loyalty. I love walking my dog and can disappear for hours in the beautiful countryside where I live in Stroud.

Football – I played at a decent level when I was in my twenties, which was rare as women’s football did not have anywhere near the popularity it has now. Now I am an armchair critic and follow Hammers (West Ham United). My grandfather was an East End taxi-cab driver and took me to Upton Park when I was seven years old and that was that. I was hooked.

You can follow Laura’s journey on Twitter at @MyelomaUK_CEO.