Archive for February, 2015


Feb 23 2015

A long day of travel

by at 10:59 am

As I write this I am sitting in a departure lounge at Reagan National Airport, about to have a long travel day to Albuquerque for a NCI meeting. The past week was busy, and I caught up on a lot of work, including preparing my reviews for the NCI meeting I am attending. The review starts tonight, and ends on Wednesday morning, followed by a long two-leg flight home. As is so common, my scheduled Monday morning flight (to Dallas) was canceled yesterday due to weather issues there so I spent about an hour on the phone arranging for alternate flights through the NCI travel service. The glamour of traveling is greatly overrated.

The weekend was very pleasant. We decided to see an on-demand movie at home on Saturday rather than deal with the weather that night, and chose ‘The Theory of Everything’, which we liked a lot. Eddie Redmayne certainly earned his Oscar! On Sunday we visited with our kids in Baltimore for a while and returned home to watch the Oscars, which were not as good as the movies they celebrated. And the underwear bit by Neal Patrick Harris was plain weird, though it was an interesting commentary on the dress-up craziness of the evening. I was glad to see that ‘Selma’ got some recognition that was certainly well earned.

After I get back late Wednesday I have a ton of work waiting for me, but hope to use the plane rides and layovers to cut into the “virtual” pile facing me.

Have a good week.

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Feb 15 2015

A Dinner to Remember

by at 10:52 am

I hope that you are in a warm place. Days like this remind me of when I was a medical resident in Burlington, Vermont, where days like today were fairly common and lows of -20 degrees happened at least a few times every winter. But, I was younger and more tolerant of the cold than I am these days. We spent the weekend visiting our kids, so at least our hearts were warm. I couldn’t think of a more wonderful way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It was nice to decompress a bit after a very busy week. We flew back from our little mini-vacation on Monday, and I headed straight off to an evening meeting with MedStar Health and GUMC senior leadership to discuss our ongoing expansion of the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Network. Tuesday was fully devoted to the annual NCI Cancer Center Director’s Meeting. About 55 of the 68 NCI-designated Cancer Center directors were present, along with NCI leadership. One of the major themes of the meeting was the emergence of collaborations among cancer centers. Two shared resource consortia – one in San Diego, and the other in Philadelphia – were discussed. The Mid-Atlantic Shared Resource Consortium in which we participate is another example of collaboration among cancer centers. I predict that these types of activities will expand in the future, and that expansion will include sharing of scientific program activities.

Though I had plenty of other work to do, during the rest of the week I was pretty busy with the Georgetown University Board of Directors activities. Those activities included a Wednesday afternoon meeting of the Committee on Medical Center Affairs, followed by a Wednesday evening dinner of the Board and a full Board meeting on Thursday morning. The dinner was quite wonderful. I was seated next to Kayla Henderson, the amazing Chancellor of the DC Public School System and on the other side of me was Father Stephen Sundborg, a remarkable and wise man. He and I were chatting about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I wryly remarked that Israel should adopt an approach that I dubbed the “Kenahora” strategy. Kenahora is a Yiddish work that roughly means, “ward off the evil eye.” My little witticism was overheard by the man sitting on the other side of Father Sundborg. The man leaned over and said, “Did I just really hear the word ‘kenahora’ in the Riggs Library of Georgetown University? It turns out that man, Sir Gilbert Levine, like myself, is the child of a Holocaust survivor. We exchanged our parents’ histories, entrancing Father Sundborg in the process.

At dinner Levine shared his remarkable story, which he amplified on the following morning at the board meeting. Gilbert is a Jewish man from Brooklyn who grew up to be an acclaimed conductor. About 30 years ago he was appointed as the conductor of the symphony orchestra in Krakow, Poland. This newsworthy event – a Jewish man appointed to a major cultural post in a communist nation that was the epicenter of the Holocaust – was written up in Newsweek, and read in the Vatican. As a result, Levine was invited to speak with the Archbishop of Krakow, and ultimately was then invited to the Vatican, where he met Pope John Paul II in a private audience. One thing led to another, and he ended up being appointed as Conductor of the Vatican orchestra, where he served for 17 or so years, until the Pope’s death. He became a bit of a fixture on PBS, and his tenure was highlighted by a remarkable event – the official Vatican musical remembrance of the Holocaust – attended by the Pope, the Mayor of Rome and the Chief Rabbi of Rome. Apparently, it was the first time in history that a Chief Rabbi had been invited to the Vatican. The three dignitaries were seated, at chairs of equal height, near a menorah containing only six candles – one for each million Jews who had died in the Holocaust. After the moving musical performance had ended the Pope mingled with the attendees – including Levine’s parents, who were Polish survivors of the Holocaust (though his larger family had lost 40 members). The Pope approached Mrs. Levine, speaking to her in Polish, and demonstrating his enormous humanity by telling her, “I know. I was there.” His kindness lifted a nearly life-long cloud of suffering remembrance from her. This wonderful example of inter-religious understanding is a powerful reminder of how Georgetown can be a meeting place for people of different backgrounds who can discover their commonalities and celebrate their differences.

As our cancer center grows and reaches out into ever broader communities we will do well to strive to search for those elements that we share, while respecting the differences that make each of us distinctive. In this way, the great lessons of history can help us in our own work.

Have a good week, and stay warm.

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Feb 08 2015

A brief blog

by at 8:38 pm

Harriet and I are on a weekend trip with friends, so my blog this week will be fairly brief. The past week was filled with lots of work, but fewer meetings than usual. We will be back in town on Monday afternoon, and I will return to the office on Wednesday. I have a dinner meeting on Monday night regarding the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Network, and then will be spending all day Tuesday at the NCI Cancer Center Directors’ meeting in Bethesda. Wednesday and Thursday will be dominated by the Georgetown University Board of Directors meeting and the Committee on Medical Center Affairs of the Board.

We saw a fabulous movie on Sunday evening, “American Sniper,” starring Hoya alum Bradley Cooper. His performance is remarkable, and the movie is haunting, moving, and raises important questions. It is most definitely worth seeing.

I want to close this blog by sending well-wishes to Lauren Wolkoff as she moves on to a new adventure, working at the United Nations Foundation as communications director for one of their global health programs. As many of you know, Lauren served as Lombardi’s Director of Communications in the time leading up to our recent CCSG renewal, before joining GUMC communications. She has been a valued colleague and friend to many of us in these roles, and she will be missed. Good luck, Lauren. You’ll be missed.

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Feb 01 2015

A remarkable week

by at 11:33 pm

This past work week was marked by three remarkable experiences – and I only heard about one of them! Firstly, on Wednesday evening as I was getting ready to leave work, I checked my email to see a message from the White House. I can assure you that this had not happened to me before. After checking to see if it was some type of spam, I opened it up to find an invitation to attend an event on Friday morning that would highlight an important research initiative. More about that later…

Thursday was very busy, starting with the continuation of a meeting with scientific leaders from Oak Ridge National Laboratory to discuss opportunities for enriched interactions between Oak Ridge and GUMC investigators. I ran from there to a busy afternoon clinic, and hurried to a remarkable reception being held in the Lombardi Atrium, highlighting the work of William Wegman. Wegman is an internationally acclaimed artist whose photographs and paintings of Weimeraner dogs are instantly recognizable. Bill came down from New York for the event and spent time in the morning in the pediatric oncology clinic, and later graciously signed books at an evening reception in the Atrium, which was packed to overflowing. His art is everywhere in the Atrium and in the clinic; remarkably, Bill and his wife have donated five pieces to be permanently displayed here, in honor of a former assistant who has battled cancer. We are immensely grateful to this graceful and kind man for his generosity. And we are very, very fortunate that Julia Langley, who leads our Arts and Humanities program, has built on the remarkable foundation of excellence established by Nancy Morgan, and is powerfully demonstrating the power of the arts to heal. Well done, Julia, and thank you!

While I was at the reception I chatted with Anthony Hyatt, a violinist who donates his time to the Program, and I heard the following story. Earlier in the week Anthony was playing a song in the clinic waiting room, and someone asked him to play something from an Italian opera. Anthony didn’t have anything operatic up his sleeve, but began playing another piece from the Italian repertoire. Amazingly, a family, sitting nearby, burst into song, singing the piece with a joy and release that inspired everyone in the area, including doctors, nurses and patients who emerged from exam rooms to attend the impromptu performance. Alas, there was no video to go viral on YouTube, but the joyful interposition of healing and music was never more evident in this spontaneous, beautiful moment. I wish I had been there.

While I was in clinic, my participation in the White House event was confirmed. So at 9:30 am on Friday I was standing outside the Southeast Gate, along with more than 100 others who had been invited to attend. The group included the President’s Science Advisor, the Secretary of HHS, the Directors of the NIH and NCI, NCI staff, a few cancer center directors, advocates, scientists congressmen and senators. I think I was included because I have been engaged in advocating a precision medicine initiative for the intramural program for NCI, which is now part of the Strategic Plan for the NCI. The tallest person there (by about a foot) was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who looked as if he could still score 20 points per game in the NBA. We were ushered through four security checkpoints and escorted to the waiting area outside the East Room, where we mingled and had coffee (no styrofoam cups), while we admired the paintings of former presidents and listened to music played by a Marine on the largest grand piano I have ever seen. It was a remarkable experience. We were then ushered into the East Room (dignitaries in the first two rows, and the rest of us filled in behind – I was lucky to get fairly close). After an interminable wait, the doors opened and the President strolled in. We stood, and then the air was shattered by the sounds of clicking cell phone cameras for about one otherwise silent minute. After being introduced by a young woman who won last year’s White House Science Fair the President then laid out his ambitious plans for a Precision Medicine initiative, which will be a part of his upcoming budget. Most of us fear that the proposal will be DOA given the current adversarial climate in Washington, but that the initiative will proceed using dollars pulled from other funding sources. However, he sure gives a wonderful talk – his oratorial skills are simply mesmerizing. And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is really tall – I am glad I didn’t have to sit behind him!

After the President left we all trooped out, picking up our coats in a cloakroom surrounded by photos of presidents dating back to Harding with their families and family pets. After that, it was back to work. But I was left with a memory of being a witness to history that I will always cherish.

Last week will be tough to beat as I look at this coming week’s schedule. But who knows what exciting opportunities await?

Have a great week.

PS – Wow, that was one great Super Bowl.

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