Archive for December, 2019


Dec 15 2019

Last Blog of 2019

by at 4:44 pm

This will be my last blog of 2019. It has been an eventful year, both professionally and personally. In work, we received CCSG approval as a consortium, are in active recruitment mode and have been working very hard to reorganize our science. At home, Harriet and I welcomed our sixth grandchild and spent a lot of time at the beach.

We are heading into 2020, which will be a momentous year as we continue to move forward, all of us with an eye on the upcoming 2020 elections. The political drama is quite real and will have important impacts on the future directions of cancer research. I am sure many of us will keep more than a casual eye on the happenings here in DC. However, cancer remains my major focus, and I intend to do everything in my power to assure that Lombardi continues to make transformative progress.

We are knee deep into the holidays, and I want to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa and a joyous, productive and healthy new year. Happy New Year!


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Dec 08 2019

Remembering a Colleague and Friend

by at 7:15 pm

Greetings on a chilly but seasonable Sunday evening. We entertained friends from Philly this weekend and spent part of the day at Glenstone Museum in Potomac. It is an idiosyncratic but very beautiful museum that houses a most impressive collection of modern art. I had always assumed that the many rules and constraints on the visitor experience at the former location of the Barnes Foundation just outside of Philadelphia was the premier example of an unwelcoming environment for art appreciation, but Glenstone is now the undisputed champion. It is a marvelous but somewhat cold experience, well worth at least one visit if you like modern art.

Last week was very busy, including a formal site visit of the Department of Oncology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, but the event that I certainly will remember with sadness is the death of our colleague and friend, Eliot Rosen. Eliot passed away on Wednesday evening, two weeks following surgery for a glioblastoma that had been diagnosed in August. As many of you know, he had experienced a stroke a few years ago, ultimately leading to his retirement. Eliot was a former co-leader and member of Lombardi’s Molecular Oncology program, and a very successful and productive scientist with an interest in regulating sensitivity to ionizing radiation. He was a radiation oncologist who found his calling in science. A thoughtful contrarian by nature, Eliot loved nothing more than a good political debate. I did not usually agree with him, but respected his opinions and learned from him as well. Even though he was no longer actively involved in our community’s day to day activities, his passing leaves behind a hole that cannot be filled. He will be missed.

I have rarely had busier days than I did on Thursday and Friday. It did not help that my upper respiratory infection had morphed into a sinus infection. It was a long day: My Thursday afternoon clinic was unusually busy, so I was about a half hour late for the GUMC Community Meeting. I then decamped to visit a patient in the Medical ICU and scooted up to E503 to participate in the last half hour of the Immunotherapy Interest Group, which featured presentations from our New Jersey colleagues. Along the way, I was able to stop by the GWIM reception. Congratulations to all those who were honored especially our own Eleni Tousimis, who received the Karen Gale Karen Gale Outstanding Achievement Award and Catherine Lai who received the Eisenberg Early Career Development Award.

Friday was even busier. Following two morning meetings at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, I hustled over to the Omni Shoreham Hotel to deliver brief remarks at the well attended and highly successful annual Ruesch Center Symposium, which was highlighted by a John Marshall sighting. I then hurried back to my car and returned to Georgetown in time to catch the first half of Grand Rounds, which were presented by Cliff Hudis, the CEO of ASCO. I then hurried off to the Lombardi Clinic, picked up my white coat and headed up the the Pediatrics Unit to be interviewed by ESPN for its annual Jimmy Valvano commemoration; ESPN and the V Foundation are great champions for cancer research. I then moved back to the Research Building to join in the luncheon with Dr. Hudis. After that, I had a few meetings (including a visit to the ENT suite to be examined and get treatment for my sinusitis), and then dragged myself home. Fortunately, I feel better and look forward to a productive work week as we head into the holidays. It will be a busy week for all of us, but don’t forget that our annual holiday party will be held on Tuesday evening, starting with cocktails in the Lombardi building, and then crawling over to the Leavey Center for the rest of the party. I hope to see you there!

Have a great week.


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Dec 02 2019

On Being Human

by at 7:35 am

Good morning. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday. I am still feeling the warm afterglow of spending time with family and friends, and the joy of turkey dinner leftover lunches as well. Somewhat more remotely, I am deeply grateful to our great Lombardi Gala team for putting together our most successful Gala ever. Special kudos to Cristy Seth and Sharon Courtin for their diligent and highly professional leadership, making the evening as close to effortless as any high-stakes event could be. Thank you!

Last week reminded me of the enormous transformative power that every person has, and so often that power comes unexpectedly and quite wonderfully. On Monday I saw a new patient, an older gentleman from a southern state who came in for a second opinion. He is a retired attorney and veteran and is scion of a large family. If Atticus Finch was real, he might have been this man.

In the course of our conversation he asked if it mattered what kind of radiation therapy he might receive, amongst the many options. Knowing that he would not be receiving his care at a comprehensive cancer center I used a baseball analogy, explaining that while a great fastball might be the best possible pitch that can be thrown, every pitcher that makes the major leagues has one great pitch. It might be a slider, it might be a curveball, or it might indeed be a fastball. When it matters the pitcher throws his best pitch. I told him the same would be true for his radiation oncologist. My analogy resonated with his son, who mentioned that his dad was a huge baseball fan. That simple engagement pulled my patient into storytelling mode. Speaking in a rhythmic cadence, with a gentle drawl he spun a yarn about his childhood. In 1945, every man in town followed baseball games, which were not available on radio, by heading down to the local B’Nai Brith Lodge (a Jewish social organization, similar to the Elks) and would sit outside on rockers as someone with access to a telegraph feed would hold up cards telling the play by play. Well, my patient had constructed a crystal radio, and was able to listen in one night from his home to a game between his beloved Chicago Cubs and the town’s local favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs improbably rallied to win dramatically in the ninth inning. He hopped on his bicycle and rode down to the lodge. Knowing that the telegraph feed was usually an inning or more behind real time, he began taunting the crowd of Cardinals fans, who responded by placing bets over the outcome of the game. Of course, he won, and rode home with a small bag containing a treasure trove of change.

His father, a judge in the town, found out about all of this the next day, and called his son into his chambers. The boy fessed up and was instructed to give back the money. Of course, he could not remember who had bet how much. So the judge decreed that the next Sunday, when they went to church, the collection plate would have an unusually large amount of change in it. As we wrapped up the visit, my patient, clearly a man of remarkable character and the product of a small town, then told me he had one major objective with respect to his disease: he wants to live long enough to vote against the current president. So much for reflexive stereotyping based upon conventional demographics…

On final note this morning, my thoughts are with Andrew Pecora, whose sister Debbie died last week. I had the privilege of attending her funeral. This woman with Down syndrome affected so many people and the filled chapel contained many tearful faces of people who remembered her remarkable impact on everybody she met. I am so glad we showed up and as a reward were reminded of the importance and value of every human life.


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