Archive for April, 2016


Apr 24 2016

(Great) Women and Wine

by at 10:07 pm

I write this week’s blog from a train returning from Philadelphia. Harriet and I went there to celebrate Passover with family members, and had a simply wonderful time. In a new twist, Harriet’s sister Pam organized a Sunday picnic at a local park to celebrate the many April and May birthdays in our extended family, as well as some upcoming graduations. Having a chance to play “catch” with Ella, and even Eli, beats any baseball fantasy I have ever had.

It was nice to have a break from an unusually busy and intense week. I returned from AACR late Tuesday and plunged into a long day of meetings with our oncology colleagues at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center, and then back at Georgetown. I then dashed home in the late afternoon, picked up Harriet and drove to Tysons Corner in rush hour traffic so we could attend the annual Women and Wine fundraiser, which benefits Lombardi breast cancer research. I had not previously attended this event, but was blown away by its size, energy and effectiveness. Led by Barbara McDuffie and Janet Davis, this event hosts more than 700 women who jam into a large space in the Ritz Carlton to learn about work we are doing (with presentations by Claudine Isaacs and Shawna Willey), and to be served wines and cocktails by a cadre of so-called “wine dudes” (including yours truly) who receive tips for their services. This year, the tips amounted to more than $10,000, about double from last year. And the event raised well in excess of $400,000, another record. After the cocktail hour the attendees enjoyed a sit down dinner, while the wine dudes, some of whom had dropped their trays on the guests (thankfully I was not guilty), retired next door to a restaurant to have drinks and appetizers and rest our sore feet. It was a great evening, and I am so grateful to Barbara, Janet, the whole team, and of course to the many attendees, for making this such a successful evening.

There was to be no rest for the weary. When I was at AACR I chaired a press conference describing some exciting advances in immunotherapy, and some of my comments were picked up by national media outlets, including the Washington Post. So, I was invited to be a guest on Thursday’s Diane Rehm shown on WAMU to discuss immunotherapy along with Ron DePinho, President of MD Anderson, and a patient with ocular melanoma being treated with an immune checkpoint-targeted antibody. Diane Rehm is a local and national treasure, and I was absolutely thrilled to have a chance to speak with her prior to her impending retirement from her show. I genuinely enjoy communicating complex cancer science with the public, and hope my efforts were effective. After returning from that adventure, I had clinic and then a wonderful dinner with our Friday Grand Rounds speaker. After another late night, my Friday morning consisted of a meeting with Geoff Gibney and Shangzi Wang to discuss melanoma research. Following that we got ready for our trip to Philly, where we stayed with Ken and Sarah. I slept like a log that night, until I was awakened early Saturday morning when Ella leapt onto my chest to wake me up – way too early. But it was such a nice way to start the weekend!

Have a great week.

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Apr 17 2016

Hard Work in the Big Easy

by at 11:41 pm

Greetings from the AACR meeting in New Orleans. What a meeting! It is all rather overwhelming, as usual. But, the volume and quality of superlative science being presented here is particularly astonishing.

I am deeply gratified to see that cancer immunology has “arrived” at this meeting in a huge way. It’s not even remotely possible to tick off all the talks and posters I would like to see. This feeling is compounded by the many meetings I have to attend. I guess it is better to be too busy, rather than the alternative.

I can’t stay for the whole meeting, but I fly back to DC on Tuesday, having had a chance to be thrilled by the possibilities and progress in our field.

Have a great week.

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Apr 10 2016

New Beginnings for an Old Friend

by at 8:47 pm

Greetings from Newport Beach, California! I am here as a member of the University of California Irvine Comprehensive Cancer Center’s External Scientific Advisory Board. We share many similarities with that cancer center and I look forward to learning and helping Rick van Etten in his role as cancer center director. I brought Harriet with me so we could visit some friends and family over the weekend. Also, I have appreciated the change of pace, too.

Last week was notable for some important new developments in the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Network. As many of you have learned our colleague Sandy Swain stepped down as director of the Washington Cancer Institute to take on a new role as Associate Dean for Research Development at GUMC. I congratulate Sandy on her new appointment and am grateful for all of her leadership at the Hospital Center and contributions to Lombardi over the years.

The cancer service lines at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and MedStar Washington Hospital Center will continue their integration. This is a great opportunity for Lombardi  to make a coordinated difference throughout the District of Columbia through patient care, clinical research and vibrant community engagement. I rolled up my sleeves and began meeting with folks at both hospitals this past week. Over the next few months I look forward to learning a lot so we can develop organizational structures that allow us to achieve our goals. Look forward to updates over the next few months!

Have a great week.

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Apr 04 2016

Fond Farewell to a Favorite Patient

by at 2:38 pm

Welcome back to my blog. And welcome to Christie Maillet, who has succeeded Meghan Lasswell. I won’t try to recapitulate the last month or so in one blog, but there is a story I would like to share with you.

On Thursday afternoon I saw a few patients in clinic. It was an unusual experience, since the hacking attack on MedStar Health IT systems reduced us to working with paper, and without all the necessary information that is stored and retrieved electronically. The Lombardi staff was absolutely heroic, pulling together information and doing everything possible to assure high quality and safe patient care. This hacking attack was not a victimless crime. Cancer patients had lifesaving therapies delayed, and there could have been awful consequences. I hope the criminals responsible for these cowardly acts are identified and brought to justice.

One of the patients I saw is one of my favorite patients ever. He is a 92 year old survivor of the Holocaust, born in Germany, who somehow made through the Auschwitz concentration camp, along with the woman who would become his wife. After the war he and his wife emigrated to the United States. And he has had a wonderful life. In the five years I have treated him for a cancer of the Ampulla of Vater that metastasized to his lungs more than four years ago, I have come to know this great couple, and have met their loving and accomplished children. I identified strongly with them because of my mother’s experience as a hidden child in Belgium during the Holocaust – only a few years younger than my patient. Interestingly, when my mother, named Bella, lay dying from complications of multiple myeloma more than 20 years ago, her actual last instructions to me were to never buy a German car. The wounds of her childhood never healed, even in the face of the continuing miracle of the German reconciliation with this darkest part of its history.

Yet my patient and his wife managed to transcend their own horrifying past. In fact, in between trips to Israel, they traveled back to Poland – to Auschwitz – for a cathartic and healing reunion of concentration camp survivors with the children of the guards who presided over the unimaginable horrors of that killing ground. They are proof that Hitler really did lose. They personify the grace and generosity of the human spirit, even as my mother’s homeland and other parts of Europe fall under the shadow of murderous atrocities directed against a new generation of innocents. Let us hope the madmen responsible for this suffering lose as well.

My patient is a man of uncommon wisdom and perspective. His condition has declined rapidly over the past few months. We almost stopped therapy at the end of last year but his wife, who is filled with quiet desperation at the thought of losing him, after about 70 years together, wanted him to keep trying. So he tried one more regimen, for her sake. But now it has all become too much, so he turned to his wife on Thursday and said, “Bella, I’ve had a good life, but I’m ready. It’s time.” And, he is right. He will start on home hospice this week. In all likelihood I will never see him again, but I won’t ever forget him.

When I decided to become a doctor I was attracted by the abstract notion of doing good, and for using the tools of science to improve the human condition. Yes, I had watched uplifting doctor dramas on TV and at the movies, but none of those experiences or motivations prepared me for what animates me most as a physician. It really is the idea of the care of the entire person, in the context of their lives, their families and their communities. Cura Personalis is not just a slogan for me, it is why I do what I do.

Have a good week.

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