Feb 01 2015

A remarkable week

by at 11:33 pm under Uncategorized

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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