As participants took part in various cancer screenings at October 22’s Live Well Northshore event, a hard-to-miss hot pink golf cart rolled through the Covington Trailhead. Behind the helm, which had been replaced with a wooden pirate ship wheel, was Jay Saux, M.D., medical oncologist, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. These images inside your head might come as something out of the ordinary, but for many who know Dr. Saux, this arrival was par for the course. Self-dubbed ‘The Pirate Oncologist,’ Dr. Saux is known for his costumes, painted nails, and social media videos.
At this particular event, Dr. Saux’s beard was dyed pink, a nod to October’s National Breast Cancer Awareness month. It was the perfect complement to the aforementioned pink golf cart, named Pearl, outfitted with pink lights and QR codes to allow passersby to donate to the Cancer Center.
Dr. Saux’s appearance at the Live Well Northshore, which saw more than 110 screenings conducted, featured his playing of the ukulele, yes, a ukulele, with the event’s band.
This outing was relatively standard for Dr. Saux, a member of Northshore Oncology Associates. It’s typical to see him cruising around Covington, in Pearl, headed to charity events or the latest social soiree.
No matter the theme, he’s always dressed for the occasion. At a butterfly release to honor cancer survivors earlier this year, The Pirate Oncologist ditched the eyepatch for a pair of monarch butterfly wings.
When asked why he dresses up, Dr. Saux typically answers, “it makes people smile and it helps me help people.”
The ‘why’ can be explained with a story going back to Easter Sunday 2016 and a run-in with famed New Orleans cartoonist, Bunny Matthews, at a Covington brunch spot. We’ll let Dr. Saux, dressed as the Easter bunny in this instance, explain.
“So, I’m in the restaurant at the bar having a mimosa and frog legs and after talking myself into bothering Bunny, I walk over and introduce myself,” Dr. Saux recalls. “’Hi Mr. Matthews, I’m the Easter bunny and I am happy to meet Bunny on Easter as a Bunny, can we take a pic?’”
Fast forward to July 2018, and the two would see each other again – this time, Dr. Saux was not dressed as the Easter bunny.
“He had been through a lot of treatment and wanted to establish care close to his home in St. Tammany,” Dr. Saux said of Bunny, the creator of the Vic and Nat’ly cartoon series. “I helped arrange a scan to see how things were going so we could plan the next steps.”
The pair then began chatting and discussing Bunny’s medical condition and treatment options. Unfortunately, after putting up a strong fight, Bunny passed away in 2021.
After Bunny’s death, Dr. Saux reflected on his cherished interactions with the cartoonist and his love for the Vic and Nat’ly series. But it wasn’t until July 2022 that Dr. Saux learned how much those meetings meant to Bunny, too.
A newer patient brought in a years-old article, from around the time of the original Easter Sunday meeting, that Dr. Saux had not seen before.
“In a few sentences near the end, [Bunny’s wife] Debbie mentions an oncologist dressed as the Easter bunny and my new patient knew it had to be me,” Dr. Saux recalls. “I never knew how much my words impacted Bunny and his decision for treatment. I’m sure the Easter getup didn’t hurt either.”
In that 2016 Times-Picayune article, Bunny recalls running into a ‘man costumed as a bunny [who] turned out to be an oncologist.’
“The oncologist told Matthews, ‘I know it’s rough now, but you can get past it,’” the article reads.
Author Keith Spera continues, “[Bunny] took those words to heart. ‘People are afraid of cancer, like it’s some weird thing,’” he said. “’We’ll all get it, because we live a long time now. You can’t give in. You have to fight it. You can win. I won.’”
Interactions like that chance encounter are Dr. Saux’s ‘why.’
“I still dress up in some version of a bunny for Easter and always think of Bunny Matthews and how I met Bunny as a bunny on Easter Sunday.”
Dr. Saux has been practicing oncology on the Northshore for over 20 years. Throughout his career at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, he has fully recognized and embraced the importance of philanthropy and the effect support programs and services have on patients and their families. For many years, Dr. Saux has helped facilitate some of the most significant gifts the Cancer Center has received on the Northshore.
Using his eccentric personality to balance the emotional aspect of fighting cancer, Dr. Saux is unforgettable and unapologetically unique, and that’s why he is so beloved by patients, their families, and the community as a whole.
“The best medicine is laughter, while fun is the recommended treatment for fear,” he said.