Jan 28 2023

Communities

by at 12:50 pm

It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I am writing this week’s blog a day early so I can watch the Eagles play in the NFC Championship game tomorrow. I hope they reward me with a win. I am recovering from a very busy week, as I chaired a CCSG site visit. It was a lot of work! I certainly learned a lot that is relevant to our cancer center, and for that reason alone, it was highly valuable. It was an in-person meeting, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to personally interact with colleagues for several days. That type of camaraderie simply cannot be replicated on Zoom. As I reflect on our upcoming CCSG application, I see quite clearly how our preparations are placing us in a good position for success.

Speaking of success, last year’s BellRinger bike ride raised $1.45M! Cancer does not take time off, and neither do we. Registration for the 2023 BellRinger ride opened this past week, and as of Friday, we already had 54 rider registrations and nine teams formed. The 2022 ride had more than 800 riders, and we are looking to at least double that number in 2023. So, please remember to register, volunteer and do what you can to support this ride, which supports our cancer research efforts.

I simply cannot let go of the events of this past week or two in the world around us. It seems as if every day we were plagued by multiple mass murders in California, violence on the West Bank, murders in a synagogue and evidence of horrific police brutality in Memphis. Closer to home, antisemitic symbols appeared on our own campus. We seemingly live in a world gone mad — and thanks to modern technology, each of us has access to the videos, audio feeds, and bodycams, amplifying the horror, the impact and the inescapable feeling that this is happening to us. And, in a real way, it is.

Have we lost our way? Or do we have a heightened awareness and sensitivity that makes us intolerant of the intolerable? If the former, then we have a big, big problem. If the latter, then perhaps we see the glimmer of a future solution. Problems can’t be solved until they are recognized as such. And that is what I think is going on today. We have big problems, and while some would celebrate or deny the existence or magnitude of the challenges we face as a society and in our world, most people are increasingly intolerant of intolerance, cannot stomach wanton violence and reject hate as an animating principle of life.

Solutions will not be easy, and my guess is that they will evolve only when there is a broad demand for meaningful change that will arise when we return to first principles of acceptance, tolerance, community, family and for many of us, faith. If we can view each other more as neighbors than strangers, and if we remember that common courtesy creates uncommon connectivity, perhaps we can recapture some of the magical innocence of my youth, when children played outside without supervision, front doors were unlocked, we all looked out for each other, and guns were for soldiers and the police.

Here’s hoping for a peaceful week.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 

 


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Jan 22 2023

Farewell to a Friend

by at 6:01 pm

Greetings from Florida, where Harriet and I are celebrating our anniversary with a brief trip. We read just now that it is about to start snowing in DC. Not happening here! It was a very busy few days before that; I am chairing a cancer center site visit later this week and had a lot of work in that regard. Plus, I revised my R01 grant revision in response to internal review and have sent it out for another round, with a couple of new readers.

Longtime readers of my blog may remember an entry from September 2019, where I wrote about our friend Sandy, who was quite suddenly diagnosed with metastatic adenocarcinoma of the GE junction. I mused about the value of showing up for the people we care about, and marveled at her unusual and inspiring blend of optimism and clear-eyed realism. She has had a remarkable life since then, inhaling life with gusto, traveling around the world with her husband and an ever-shifting coterie of friends and family — all while receiving various standard and investigational chemotherapy regimens. Plus, she scored a hole-in-one (presumably when she was not wearing a pump)! Just a few months ago, we all were together in New York to see our niece’s off-Broadway show. She has been a model of how to live with cancer, on her terms, with joy and determination. Her disease has worsened, she has run out of therapeutic options, and she does not feel well. Sandy knows what this means, accepts it and somehow is maintaining her upbeat style, all the while understanding what is going to happen. I am in awe of her.

She will be starting home hospice in the next week or two. Many people with the same disease would have traded places with her in a heartbeat in 2019. She has outlived any and all reasonable expectations. It has been a great run. She knows it and is appreciative, but I must say that I and everyone who knows her and cares about her are not content. We talk about how we can help people live with cancer, but quite frankly, Sandy’s experience reminds me that I want to beat cancer, not just control it.

That is what we are going to do. Fortunately, there are many people stepping up to help in our mission to end cancer, including the owner of Alexandria Hyundai, Kevin Reilly. This weekend, Kevin led the popular and fun Hyundai Hands On Hope Contest at the Washington, DC Auto Show, where three of our Georgetown Lombardi colleagues competed to win a new car. You can read about the outcome elsewhere in this newsletter. We are so grateful for Kevin’s energy and enthusiasm, and the financial donation made to Georgetown Lombardi on behalf of the Washington Area Hyundai Dealers.

Finally, this should be a time of joy for many in our community as the Lunar New Year observances began on Sunday. Sadly, though, a deadly mass shooting over the weekend at a Lunar New Year celebration in California has dampened the happiness. If you or someone you know needs support coping with this tragedy, you’ll find mental and emotional health and well-being resources on Georgetown’s Every Hoya Cares website.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 


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Jan 15 2023

MLK Day

by at 6:15 pm

I hope you had a meaningful MLK Day holiday weekend. Georgetown’s celebration of his legacy at its annual Kennedy Center event is a most fitting tribute.

In thinking about Martin Luther King Jr.’s contributions to our society, I find that there are so many lessons, and so much that is worthy of emulation. Lost in my well-deserved respect for Dr. King’s leadership, courage and moral clarity is the fact that he was an extraordinary observer — he understood his world, its problems, its challenges and its opportunities. He was eerily prescient; listen to clips of his interviews, and he described so much of the world we find ourselves living in today. So much has changed, there has been so much progress, but there is so much more left to do.

We can honor him by working to achieve his dream — and make it ours too.

I’ll be away next weekend, so my blog will resume in two weeks.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 


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Jan 07 2023

Them’s the Breaks

by at 10:18 pm

Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful and healthy holiday season, and had time to spend with family and friends. We are now entering into the third year of COVID-19, and new variants suggest there is no end in sight for the pandemic, though those of us who have been vaccinated seem to be managing to achieve measures of normalcy, even if we are infected or reinfected. Please be mindful of the university’s COVID guidance as you go about your work.

This was not the best holiday season I have had. Harriet tripped, fell and broke her right proximal humerus on December 11 and underwent surgery on the 27th. Needless to say, the fracture, the surgery and the early recovery period were our primary areas of focus during the holiday break. Fortunately, she is on the mend, and a full recovery is expected. I had some time on my hands (though I was pretty busy on the homefront), and worked on the revision of an R01 grant that is due in March, along with CCSG preparations.

As many of you know, the bitter cold temperatures around Christmas caused pipes to break in both the Lombardi clinic building at the hospital and in the MedDent Building, causing significant water damage. Repairs are ongoing, and the work continues. I am excited about plans for our focused scientific retreat in March that will identify multi-investigator projects that can be developed and supported; the Letters of Intent are due this month. Virtually all of our CCSG next drafts have been completed and are being reviewed, revised and polished. I have to be out of town for part of this week for a cancer center EAB meeting, and will be chairing another cancer center’s CCSG site visit later this month. So, there is a lot to do.

I am writing this blog post on Saturday evening, as Sunday promises to be a long day — but for all the best reasons. Regular readers know that my favorite teams are based in Philadelphia, but I will be attending Sunday’s game between the Washington Commanders and the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field as the guest of the NFL Players Association. Last week, we announced that Washington coach Ron Rivera, a cancer survivor, will receive the NFLPA Georgetown Lombardi Award at our annual Lombardi Gala on April 29. I’ll be rooting hard for both the Eagles and Commanders (either win helps the Eagles); by the time this blog is posted, you’ll know if they came through! But, tomorrow’s game is all about Lombardi for me, because Lombardi will definitely win. I am grateful for that, and want to thank DeMaurice Smith and Mark Cobb of the NFLPA for helping to make this happen.

Have a great week, and remember to stay safe and be well.

Lou

 


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Dec 11 2022

Gratitude

by at 9:22 pm

This is my last blog of 2022. I’ll be away next weekend, and the winter holiday break begins the following Thursday.

What a year! Who’d have thought we’d still be dealing with the pandemic, along with RSV and influenza this month? I really thought we’d be done with masks by now. I assumed I would not get infected by COVID, given the precautions we took for so long to protect ourselves. I fretted about the cancer center, with our many challenges and tantalizing opportunities. I feared for the future of democracy, and noted with alarm the increasing volume of the siren songs of racial, ethnic, religious, political and cultural intolerance. Yet, here we are, and I find myself filled with gratitude, feeling cautiously optimistic about the future, and excited for 2023.

I am grateful for my wonderful wife and family, whose love inspires me and gives me wings.

I am grateful for my colleagues, whose work embodies the noblest values of the human spirit. We work to change the world, in ways large and small, and we make a difference every single day. What a privilege.

I am grateful to Georgetown for its support of our mission and for the way it infuses our work with a purpose that encourages our highest aspirations.

I am grateful to our colleagues at MedStar Health and Hackensack Meridian Health for their shared commitment to end cancer as we know it.

I am grateful to my patients, whose courage and grace inspire me (echoing the words of the late Jimmy Valvano) to never give up. I never will.

I am grateful to live and work in this remarkable city, to live with history and work towards a better future.

I am grateful that my favorite sports teams rewarded my decades of mostly futile fandom with some moments of pure joy in 2022.

I am grateful for the success of our first BellRinger ride and thank everyone who supported, donated to, participated in and organized this wonderful event. Keep an eye out for a special BellRinger announcement on their social media accounts (see this issue of Lombardi This Week for links).

I am profoundly grateful that the American people appear to have begun to reject extremism and to embrace democratic norms and the vision of our founding fathers.

I am grateful and awed by the forthright courage of Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian nation in its desperate but effective battle against tyranny.

I am grateful for each sunrise, every sunset, all rainbows and for the quiet pleasures that remind me that ordinary existence is utterly remarkable.

Finally, I am grateful for the extraordinary progress we have made, together, to make our cancer center more impactful and poised to make remarkable contributions to the fields of cancer research, prevention, treatment and cure, leaving nobody behind. I am humbled and privileged to lead this effort, and I thank you for what you do every day, every year.

Have a wonderful and meaningful holiday season, and a joyous New Year’s celebration. Please remember that COVID is not yet done with us, so take all appropriate precautions to assure the continued good health of you, your loved ones and your community.

Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa and Happy New Year.

And, as always, stay safe and be well.

Lou

 

 


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Dec 04 2022

Never Again

by at 11:09 am

Greetings on Sunday evening. We had a lovely weekend at home, spending time with family, and watched the Eagles run their record to an NFL-best 11-1 with a resounding win over the Tennessee Titans. Perhaps the weekend’s highlight was a performance by the Washington Men’s Camerata, performing at a church in Virginia. The songs were Christmas songs written by Jewish composers or lyricists, including ‘White Christmas’ by Irving Berlin and “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),” written in part by the legendary singer Mel Tormé. One of our neighbors is a member of the Camerata, and we were thrilled to attend.

My workweek was typically busy. On Tuesday, I presented at an AACR symposium for advocates with colleagues Ann Barker (former NCI deputy director), Jane Perlmutter (an advocate I know from my days at the Vail Clinical Methods Workshop), Roy Herbst from Yale and old friend Doug Yee, director of the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota. On Thursday evening, I started by attending a really interesting virtual presentation by Steven O’Day at the Immunotherapy Working Group on an improved anti-CTLA4 antibody, and then went to a wonderful dinner meeting of the newly consolidated MGUH and MWHC Hematology/Oncology Division hosted by John Marshall. Friday afternoon was reserved for an interesting and productive CHI program retreat, hosted by Joyce Slingerland and Yi Zhang.

The Camerata concert kicked off the holiday season for us in earnest. However, at this time of fellowship and goodwill, one marked by interreligious spirit, I have been deeply troubled by the against many of us… because of our race or nationality, or who we choose to be and love, or who and how we choose to worship. Also troubling is the receptivity of at least some Americans to these messages. It’s easy to sit back and say, “This is not who we are,” but perhaps this is exactly where we are today. I do not take this rising tide of intolerance lightly, because I know how this can end when that tide crashes onto the shore.

Some of you may know this story already, but it needs to be told, again and again — for the Holocaust cannot be forgotten, trivialized or denied. To do so imperils not only the lives of Jews like myself, but all who love freedom. In 1942, my 12-year-old mother lived in Belgium with her parents. My grandfather, who saw what was coming, liquidated his modest assets, placed them in the hands of his trusted, non-Jewish business partner, and led his family into hiding. For the next three years, they hid, with my mother spending time in a convent as a novice. My brother has chronicled her adventures in a self-published book of her letters to her parents while she was at the convent. Talk about interreligious spirit. This little Jewish girl survived because of the courage and good will of devout Catholics. How fitting that her oldest son has worked at a great Catholic university for the past 15 years.

Her life was in constant danger. Only 50% of Belgian Jews survived the Holocaust (though fewer than 1% of Polish Jews made it). She had assumed names and actually acted as a courier for the Underground near the end of the war. At some point (we think late 1944) she was living in a small town outside Liège. After the Battle of the Bulge, Germany was sending reinforcements and equipment across a bridge near Liège to stem the Allied advance. That bridge was attacked by Allied bombers every day, and the bridge (presumably of the pontoon variety) was repaired by the Germans every night.

One day, my mother, then 15 years old, was running an errand for her host family near that bridge. The air raid sirens sounded, and per the custom of that time, my mother ran to the nearest house, knocked on the door and was permitted to wait out the air raid in that home’s cellar. During that air raid, already fearing for her safety, she was horrified to see three German soldiers enter the cellar, also to wait out the air raid. If they suspected that she was Jewish, it likely would have been the end of her. What to do?

Old and wise before her time, this teenager calmly reached into her purse, and pulled out the rosary beads she carried with her for just such an occasion. Then, this former novice expertly led the soldiers in reciting the rosary, for they were just as scared as she was. The air raid ended, nobody was hurt and they all went their separate ways.

My mother triumphed over Hitler, raising two sons who have raised six children, who have added eight grandchildren (so far) to her legacy. Her core family unit survived; they were so lucky. Countless millions died in that war, 6 million Jews were slaughtered mercilessly, including some members of my mother’s extended family. The Holocaust happened. It was real. It should serve as a warning, an enduring instruction about the horrifying perils of unchecked intolerance and complacency in the face of hatred.

I would like to believe that the current tides of hatred are the equivalent of the Battle of the Bulge being waged by those who represent a rotting view of how we should live — by being profoundly anti-American even as they wrap themselves with the flag. They will not win that war, but they can certainly cause of lot of damage in the battle they choose to wage. As we celebrate this holiday season, and think about its meaning, may I humbly suggest we add a simple two-word coda to our prayers.

Never again.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 


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Nov 27 2022

Giving Thanks

by at 6:21 pm

After a somewhat quiet, abbreviated workweek, we celebrated Thanksgiving at our place with our kids and grandchildren. It was all so wonderfully normal — though almost everybody seemed to be either recovering or getting sick from something. From what I can gather, we are not the only family to have had that experience.

Our granddaughter, Isabelle, woke up on Friday morning with some type of GI bug, so Ken and Sarah drove back to Philly on Friday. Elana was sidelined by bronchitis, while Kelly is slowly recovering from an upper respiratory infection that was not COVID or influenza. Infectious diseases remain alive and well, even as the pandemic wave (possibly) wanes.

I used the unexpected free time to revise the CCSG Director’s Overview and Six Essential Characteristics based on the EAC review. I think the time was well-spent. There is still a lot to do, but we are in good shape, with six months to go prior to submission of the grant.

I know that life is never easy, but our family’s illnesses will pass, and our CCSG preparations leave me filled with cautious optimism. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I count my lucky stars every day.

As we head into the coming holiday season, I hope that you too are able to thank your lucky stars, appreciate what you have accomplished and look forward to the future with hope.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 

 


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Nov 19 2022

An Event-Filled Week

by at 10:25 pm

Greetings on Saturday evening. We are enjoying a quiet weekend after a very busy week. The annual Men’s Event was held on Wednesday night, back at Morton’s on Connecticut Avenue after a two-year pandemic absence. The evening was filled with high energy, and we raised a lot of money. It was a prelude to a very busy Thursday. I worked all morning, and then had a particularly busy clinic that afternoon; three of my patients had recently diagnosed progression of their cancers, and I had to have some sadly familiar conversations with them.

I rushed out of my clinic when I finished and hurried to the Westin Georgetown to speak at the Ruesch Center Luminary Awards, which honor distinguished gastrointestinal cancer researchers and advocates. I was particularly pleased to be there to recognize David Tuveson, a fellow NCI cancer center director (Cold Spring Harbor) who has made important contributions to understanding pancreatic cancer biology, and Joel Tepper, a giant in the radiation therapy field. That evening’s GI research symposium featuring Georgetown Lombardi scientists and clinical investigators was wonderful.

I simply cannot find the proper words to sufficiently praise what John Marshall has accomplished in leveraging Jeanne Ruesch and her family’s gift to create and nurture the development of the Ruesch Center. The Ruesch Symposium, which ran through Saturday, highlighted science, clinical care and the very best type of community outreach and engagement. It is truly a model of what we should aspire to do in all of our disease-focused translational groups.

Like many of you, we are looking forward to Thanksgiving. In the past few years, we have convened in Philadelphia, Baltimore or at the beach. However, David is on call this holiday, so we decided to have our kids and their families over to our house. We have decided to bring out the “good china” (for the adults at least); we have not used any of it for at least 30 years. We have an ulterior motive — to give the good china, some pieces of which are family heirlooms, to our kids, if any of them likes it. We need the space.

I am not optimistic, but hope springs eternal.

Happy Thanksgiving; stay safe and be well, especially if your plans involve travel.

Lou

 


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Nov 13 2022

Celebrating Immunotherapy’s Dawn, Progress and Future

by at 6:22 pm

It’s hard to find much good to say about climate change, but our whole family decamped to the beach this weekend to celebrate Harriet’s birthday, and we spent a few hours on the beach, in shorts, on a beautiful, cloudless and warm day — in mid-November, no less.

The weekend followed an eventful week dominated by my trip to Boston for the annual Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) meeting. There were 7,000 attendees, or nearly as many as attended AACR meetings when I started out in the field. Amazing.

At the dinner celebrating new inductees as Fellows of the Academy of Immuno-Oncology, every inductee (myself included) told stories of what it felt like being the stepchildren of cancer research for so many years. Each of us, in our own ways, persevered, and helped to propel the field forward, revolutionizing cancer care in the process. For me, the greatest honor is to have been part of a movement that changed the way we think about cancer, created new treatment options and has begun to deliver on the hopes for cancer immunotherapy. What a privilege! Congratulations to Mike Atkins once again for his lifetime achievement award; he is a prime author of the progress we celebrated.

The meeting itself was quite good. The talks were very conceptual and paradigm-challenging. In contrast, the absolute tsunami of posters at the meeting focused on the development of tools, drugs and therapies. It was overwhelming, in the best possible way. The future of cancer immunotherapy is indeed bright.

As for me, the coming week promises to be very busy. However, I am now done with traveling and cancer center EAB meetings (I had a virtual one on Friday) for a while, and now I can devote my time to focus on gearing up for our CCSG competitive renewal.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 

 


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Nov 06 2022

Cancer and Baseball

by at 10:54 pm

My cancer center EAB travels concluded (for the time being) on Friday evening, when I returned from Houston. Like many Philadelphia sports fans, I had spent Thursday evening (in my case, from my hotel room after the dinner for EAB members) simultaneously watching the Phillies lose a heartbreaker to the Houston Astros on TV, while the still-undefeated Philadelphia Eagles took care of business against the Houston Texans on Amazon Prime’s Thursday Night Football. The Phillies would go on to lose Game 6 on Saturday evening to the new world champions. I found myself feeling more grateful than sad after such a great and unexpected postseason run.

We took it easy this weekend, enjoying takeout sushi from Nama Ko with friends on Saturday evening and relishing the opportunities to take long walks in the unseasonably warm weather. I needed the rest; I have a busy week coming up, as I am attending the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) meeting in Boston from Tuesday through Thursday. It will be memorable for Mike Atkins — he is receiving SITC’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the society’s highest honor. Congratulations, Mike! As for me, I will be inducted into SITC’s second class of honorees in its Academy of Immuno-Oncology. I can’t speak for Mike, but this honor led me to reflect on when I made the decision to focus my research on cancer immunotherapy so many years ago. Many of my colleagues and mentors thought I was throwing away my career. I was naive and stubborn, to be sure, but they were wrong. I would not change anything, except to be smarter.

Now, back to baseball and cancer (more specifically, cancer center EABs). You might wonder, what’s the connection? Well, the Phillies, who I have rooted for since I was 5 years old, have been a very bad baseball team for most of their 139 years of existence, including the last decade. So, why did they succeed this year? What did they have to do to make progress?

First of all, they built and maintained a beautiful park that is a desirable place to play and go to watch games. They built organizational depth and hired talented senior leaders. The leadership group worked together cohesively to achieve common goals. The ownership group had the vision, money and courage to invest in the team. They accumulated talented players at all levels of the organization, from the low minors to the major league team. They effectively developed their talented young players and recruited established major league players, many of them stars, a few of them superstars. Finally, they found a servant leader, their manager, who freed the players to be the best versions of themselves. Then, and only then, the players played out of their minds. They won and won when it mattered, and quite nearly pulled off the impossible. A lot went into this season of success.

Now, how are cancer centers evaluated? I have spent the last few weeks thinking about Georgetown Lombardi and my cancer center EAB activities. The key criteria of success are scientific impact (think wins), space (think a cool baseball park), organizational capabilities, cancer focus (funding, clinical trial accruals; think depth and quality of a baseball team’s roster), transdisciplinary collaboration and coordination (working together on a set of shared goals), institutional commitment (think money and empowerment) and center director (think manager). Great franchises identify talent and successfully create a deep bench of players to permit sustained success (think CRTEC). Successful organizations become essential parts of their communities and bring people together (Community Outreach and Engagement). They do all this with sensitivity to the inclusion of all races and creeds, however imperfectly (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). Baseball and cancer centers are so very different, yet both are subject to the principles of successful organizations. Who knew?

So, I guess I am a manager, and also a player. It’s a comforting analogy, but I do have a bit of a disclosure to make. While it is true that I would not change much of anything with regard to my decision to pursue a scientific career in cancer immunotherapy, I will confess that I have always wished I had been blessed with a 100 mph fastball. That didn’t happen, but some childhood dreams persist and die hard.

Don’t worry; I think I am over it.

Stay safe and be well,

Lou

 


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