Jeremiah “Jig” Deneve, DO, FACS recently joined the UNC Department of Surgery as an Associate Professor in the Division of Surgical Oncology. Read more about his background, approach to surgery, teaching, and serving patients and loved ones.
Dr. Deneve’s medical training includes a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine from Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine at Midwestern University, Residency at Emory University School of Medicine, and Fellowships in both Surgical Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center at University of South Florida and a Cardiothoracic Research Fellowship at Emory University School of Medicine.
What brought you to the Department of Surgery at UNC?
I have been in academic surgery for the last 10 years, practicing at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (Memphis, TN). I was recruited to UNC to provide complex surgical oncology care and help establish a Peritoneal Surface Malignancy program. The opportunity to work at UNC and the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of the premier NCI designated cancer centers in the country, working with similarly minded individuals to diagnose, perform research and treat cancer patients is my privilege and absolutely an honor.
What inspired you to become a doctor/surgeon?
While in college, I worked as a scrub tech, passing instruments to the surgeon and assisting during the operation. It was excellent “hands-on” training for what ultimately would become my career. I enjoyed the satisfaction of helping patients and working with my hands. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that simply by watching so many surgeons perform their craft, how much it would help me in what I do on a day-to-day basis. I continue to be reminded and am thankful for that experience during a pivotal time in my early development as a surgeon.
How did you decide to pursue your current specialty? Has it met your expectations?
I began general surgery residency considering a career in cardiothoracic surgery and spent dedicated time performing research. I was fortunate to work with several mentors, both immediately before and after my two years of research, who were surgical oncologist and positive role models. Through their guidance and mentorship, I ultimately chose to pursue surgical oncology as a career. I enjoy that every patient, every surgery, every tumor presents a unique challenge and opportunity to help provide the best possible outcome for their specific situation. Furthermore, working on a multidisciplinary team with Medical Oncologist and Radiation Oncologist, ensures that we provide the most comprehensive treatment approach for each patient and their unique circumstances. I am constantly challenged to adapt and grow as a person and find the relationships that I develop with patients and their families to be by far the most rewarding aspect of my practice
Do you have any pre-surgery rituals?
The procedure begins for me often several days prior to the actual operation. Frequently, when driving or alone, I will mentally and visually proceed through several key portions of the procedure. The operations I perform are often long, therefore, I make sure I hydrate well and eat a healthy breakfast or snack prior to surgery. One of the last things I do before surgery, often when scrubbing my hands, I take a few moments to collect my thoughts, meditate and pray. I try in that moment to put away all outside distractions so I can give my complete and undivided attention to the patient and the task at hand
What are your contributions to your specialty?
With the help of several colleagues and mentors, we were able to develop a Peritoneal Surface Malignancy program at my prior institution. I was recruited to UNC to re-establish a program and provide a vital aspect of complex cancer care at UNC/Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. My greatest contribution is also educating and teaching the next generation of students and doctors. I find teaching to be one of the most rewarding aspects of this career, and in some way, hopefully inspiring others.
If you could pick the brain of someone alive or dead, who would it be?
I enjoy history and reading biographies. Three men come to mind: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Solomon Northrop. Washington, the more I learn of him, continues to inspire and impress. To willingly walk away from the power and the prestige he achieved, not once, but twice (General of the American Revolution & stepping down after his 2nd term of the Presidency), was unparalleled both in the 18th century and today. Lincoln, an obvious choice, was the glue that held our country together, during one of its darkest periods. Northrop, a free black man who was taken into captivity and whose biography inspired the book and subsequent movie 12 Years a Slave, serves as a role model of high moral character and substance and, despite such an injustice, I find his forgiving spirit and ability to overcome insurmountable atrocities absolutely encouraging and fascinating.
What profession did you want to be when you were a kid?
I wanted to be a professional soccer player and play for the US Men’s National Team. I broke my leg in 9th grade which ultimately changed the course of my life. I also wanted to become a pilot and fly for the military. That dream also never materialized and I ended up changing majors in college from Aerospace Engineering to Biology. I ended up getting my privates pilot’s license about 8 years and enjoy recreational flying.
What are some goals you would like to achieve during your time at UNC Surgery?
I look forward to working with an amazing group of individuals across multiple specialties at UNC and the Lineberger Cancer Center, teaching others and learning from them, all in an effort to improve the care we provide to our patients and their families. My goals are to help establish and growing the peritoneal surface malignancy program at our institution and provide a service to the patients of North Carolina and beyond. I look forward to working with and mentoring the UNC students, residents and fellows as they advance through their training and pursue their careers serving others.
What is one thing you wish your patients or coworkers knew about you before they meet you?
I take the responsibility of treating and operating on patients and them placing their trust in me very seriously. I care deeply about patients and their journey. While I can’t always guarantee smooth sailing, I promise to be there and walk with them step-for-step along their path. Indeed, it is the relationships that form and develop when treating patients and their families that I cherish the most about surgical oncology.
What are the failures you most cherish? What did you learn from them?
My first tendency is to view my failures as a short coming or having missed the mark. In reality, however, I have learned much more of who I am, what I am capable of, and have grown as a person, and as a surgeon, by my failures, rather than by things that have come easy or natural.
One of the reasons I enjoy doing Ironman triathlons is because they are difficult, challenging and often require I dig deep within to overcome adversity. During the long race, and often times at several different times during the race, there comes a time when, despite all the training before hand, I want to stop, to give up or throw in the towel. It is at these moments, in particular, that I find out more about myself and how I deal with adversity. These moments look ugly, aren’t easy and there may be tears, but continuing to move forward and persisting, pushing through the adversity, are very rewarding and ultimately keep me coming back for more. Cancer patients face similar hurdles every day in their own journey. In some ways, the challenges I encounter during Ironman races represent a microcosm of life, and hopefully helps me relate better with my patients and their families.
If you give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be?
Life is short, not always fair nor fully understood. Make the most of each day and interaction, for you never know who is looking up to you. Include others in the process when you come to a fork in the road and need to make a major life decision, make the decision as if you were already 10 years down the road and looking back at this point in time.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I enjoy triathlons and have completed in several Ironman and ultra-marathon events. I also enjoy reading and history.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
Family time and responsibilities take up a majority of time spent outside of the hospital. I also enjoy running, biking and swimming and try to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.
How would you describe yourself in one word?
If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
While not necessarily a superpower, I wish I could sing well. I can’t hold a tune, really enjoy singing, and often will sing out loud, despite that fact that it sounds bad and makes me and everyone within earshot laugh.
Is there anything else you’d like colleagues, patients/loved ones, etc. to know?
I am simple, easy going, like to laugh and straightforward. I don’t have all the answers and won’t be perfect, but I will treat my patients and their families like my own family. Our relationship often last for years and our lives become intertwined together. It is an honor for me to be a small part of your story and a responsibility I do not take half-heartedly.
For more information about Dr. Deneve, check out his UNC Surgery faculty profile or UNC Health Care profile (coming soon).