Kat Zambon's Weblog

 

Jul 28 2019

A weekend in Baltimore

We have been enjoying a beautiful weekend, especially after the sauna we experienced last week. Last week was highlighted by a half-day meeting up at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, where we discussed potential collaborations. It was very productive, and we can see potential engagement in the use of big data to answer important questions related to cancer risk, in the development of novel approaches to personalized immunotherapy and in drug discovery/drug development. I look forward to next steps.

We hung around this weekend, so to speak. After spending a few hours with our grandson Eli, we then drove up to Baltimore to help our son celebrate his birthday, joined by his wife, daughter and in-laws. They live in the Canton section of the city, where new construction is as pervasive as it is in DC. When we got there we were surprised to see our daughter Elana (who works at Johns Hopkins) and granddaughter Aviva there; they stopped by as well to wish Dave a happy birthday. We hung out together, cooed over Clara, who turned 4 months old on Sunday, and then went out for a simply wonderful Italian meal at Cinghiale, located on the waterfront. There, David convinced me to spring for a glass of the legendary, rare bourbon, Pappy van Winkle, in honor of his birthday. It was amazing, and quite simply the finest bourbon (or any spirit) I have ever tried.

We drove home, and then headed back up to Baltimore on Sunday afternoon for a picnic at a dear friend’s house – she and Harriet have been friends since college, and both she and her husband are federal judges. Elana, Ben and their kids joined us. It was wonderful.

Baltimore was great. There was not a rat in sight.

Have a great week.

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Nov 26 2018

Thankful on Thanksgiving

As I muse about this past year, I am overcome with a sense of gratitude for so many things.

I am thankful to have the opportunity to lead an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center at a pivotal moment in the history of the war on cancer. We have the knowledge, tools and opportunity to eliminate the impact of cancer for those who follow us. What a great opportunity! We will make a difference together.

I am thankful to work with so many wonderful people at Georgetown, MedStar Health and Hackensack who help us seize those opportunities.

I am thankful for the amazing work we did together to effectively re-compete our NCI CCSG. Only by working together can we make a difference.

I am thankful for my wonderful wife, who makes me better in every way. Sharing a life with my perfect partner is the ultimate gift.

I am thankful for my health, and for a right knee that once again allows me to move effectively through life’s challenges.

I am thankful for my family, the foundation of all that matters to me, and the countless large and small blessings that I receive every day from them.

I am thankful to have a photo, taken on Thursday, of my 91-year old father, expertly carving (for seemingly the millionth time), our holiday turkey, ably assisted by our two sons (even though Harriet does a better job!).

I am thankful for life, and for a life devoted to making the world a better place.

On another note, any of our ASCO members should note that Samir Khleif is on the ballot this year. Please remember to vote for one of our own!

Thank you for what you do. Let’s make this week a good one.

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Aug 12 2018

Kneecapped

We escaped to the beach for a weeklong family vacation. Being near the ocean provided little relief from the dog days of August. It was really hot, but still so nice to get away. However, this past Thursday evening, the dog bit back. I was horsing around with our seven year old grandson Isaac and we tripped over each other and tumbled down the stairs as we were heading out to run an errand together. Isaac was unhurt, but I landed badly and knew right away that I was in trouble, with a right knee injury … I hobbled, with great difficulty, to the car, and Harriet drove me to a local urgent care, where I got a brace for my right knee. On Friday, I got right knee x-rays, which revealed no fracture. However, an MRI confirmed my fears; I had a right tibial plateau fracture. I have been fitted with a stiff brace and hope to avoid surgery, while staying off the leg entirely for six weeks or so. A CT scan this coming week will further assess the fracture to see if surgery is needed. Either way, I will be pretty immobile for the next 6-7 weeks.

I plan to work from home this coming week or two, making liberal use of Skype, Zoom and conference calls. Once the pain and swelling have subsided a bit more, and I can ambulate more effectively and safely on crutches or a walker, I’ll return, though I will confine myself to the office as much as possible to ensure I don’t interfere with healing.

My goal is to be fully ambulatory at our site visit on October 17. We are now in high gear for site visit preparations. My impaired mobility is causing interesting dilemmas. For example, we have two EAC mock site visits scheduled, and usually have welcome dinners for the EAC members at 1789 in one of their upstairs rooms. Well, that’s not happening this go-round. We’ll be looking for a restaurant without steps for sure!

Having had the good fortune to avoid physical limitations to ambulation to this point of my life, I already have a renewed appreciation for the challenges faced by folks with physical disabilities. Each curb is a fence, every stairway is Mount Everest. Sitting down with a rigid, painful right leg requires careful study and high drama. Of course, I will acclimate and adapt, just like we all do, and I will take solace in knowing that this is a temporary inconvenience. People who face prolonged or lifetime disabilities deserve our support and a physical environment that allows them to fully participate in our society. The Americans with Disabilities Act was necessary; I certainly hope it continues to be enforced and strengthened.

Have a good week, and remember to watch your step!

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Feb 26 2018

Work and Play

(February 26, 2018) — I am back to my blog after a one-week absence for President’s Day weekend. My so-called holiday weekend was filled with work, as I reviewed all four CCSG program write ups, followed by the Community Outreach and Engagement and CPDM sections. I was cross-eyed by the beginning of the work week. However, Monday was one of the most productive days I can remember with respect to my volume and quality of work. Sprinkled among the usual tsunami of meetings over the week I also worked with two of my graduate students on two separate papers they are readying for submission and tackled the first ten or so of Department of Oncology self evaluations for the 2017 Faculty Evaluation process. I personally review all of the Professors in the Department of Oncology. Ten down, more than 20 to go.

One of the highlights of the work week, which basically started every day in the early morning and ended at about 11 pm, was the internal ACS grant review committee meeting we held on Friday. We reviewed nine really high quality applications, and a few stood out and will receive support. I always find it exhilarating to learn more about the exciting work being done by young Lombardi investigators.

The weekend had a very nice balance of work and play. On Friday evening, we had an impromptu dinner with Mike Atkins and his wife Susan Crockin at a really nice restaurant near Howard University Hospital called Hazel. I don’t know how we got reservations there on such short notice. They have been there before, but this so-called “medium plate” restaurant was new to us. We were so impressed by the inventive, delicious food and attentive service that we purchased gift certificates for our kids – we think they’ll love the place. And congratulations to Mike who, on the following evening, was honored by the Melanoma Research Foundation with its Humanitarian Award!

Saturday brought a visit by Elana, Isaac and Aviva. Harriet and Elana hung out with Aviva, and Ken brought by his two older kids for a visit while Isaac and I went to watch the Hoyas lose to Providence. Even though the result was disappointing, Isaac and I had a great time. After we got back and Elana took the kids home, Harriet and I then headed over to the Arena Stage for a quick bite, and then saw the play, ‘The Great Society’, about the presidency of Lyndon Johnson. It was thoughtful, well done and provocative. It is tempting to conclude that our current societal challenges are uniquely treacherous, but the play reminded me of the enormous events that made the 1960s a watershed era in American history. Ironically, I am now reading a fascinating biography of Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and am struck by the remarkable turbulence and high stakes of that seemingly placid era. Bottom line: political and cultural eras – even in peacetime – are rarely placid, and never dull!

I worked most of the day on Sunday, but we stole away for an hour or so to visit Ken, Sarah and their kids so we could hold Isabelle and play a bit with the other kids. We feel very fortunate to have our kids and grandkids nearby so we can be part of their lives.

The coming week promises to be very busy, but no doubt will be as interesting as last week. No complaints there!

Have a great week.

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Feb 12 2018

Big Week

(February 11, 2018) — Could a week ever have two more wonderful bookends? Last Saturday, I flew to Minneapolis with our youngest son David, having scored two tickets to see the Eagles play the Patriots in the Super Bowl. It was very much a last-minute thing, so we made complicated travel arrangements and found an Airbnb in St. Paul. It was a thrill to share a once-in-a-lifetime experience with David, who is a crazy Eagles fan. Minneapolis resembled an icy version of Center City, Philadelphia, awash in a sea of green jerseys and E-A-G-L-E-S chants. Fortunately, Minneapolis has an extensive Skywalk system so we were able to walk in relative comfort to the stadium for the game. As for the game, I can’t overstate how fabulous it was to watch the Eagles win their first-ever Super Bowl in dramatic fashion. As one writer put it (and I quote loosely), “The 57-year old chip on Philadelphia’s shoulder (the Eagles last won the NFL championship in the 1960 season) died at 10:18 p.m. on Sunday night, and all of Philadelphia celebrated.” We were in the room where it happened.

David caught a 5:20 a.m. flight back home on Monday, since he had to get back to work, while I caught a 6 a.m. flight to San Francisco, via LA, as I had a meeting at Stanford University. My flight (filled with people wearing green Eagles jerseys) left promptly at 9 a.m. (the plane’s pipes were frozen, and we had to switch planes), so I did not arrive for my noon meeting until 2 p.m. My meeting continued through Tuesday afternoon, and I then flew down to Orange County to chair the EAB for the Chao Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, Irvine. I learned that Howard Federoff had resigned as Vice Chancellor at UCI, and wish him well in his future endeavors. I flew back to DC on the red eye from LA on Wednesday night, surrounded again by people wearing Eagles jerseys heading towards Philly for the massive Thursday Eagles victory parade. I was also trapped in an Economy middle seat between two large men, as we did our best imitations of fitfully sleeping sardines during an otherwise uneventful flight. It was good to get home and get back to work. It also was good that our daughter-in-law Sarah did not go into labor while I was gone.

That situation changed. We were awakened on Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m. by a text message informing us that Ken and Sarah had been at Georgetown since 3:00 a.m., and that the epidural was in place. Sarah’s mom, who had come in from Denver the night before, was holding down the fort at their house. We hustled over, and I was left watching the kids while Harriet and Judy went to the hospital. I joined them a few hours later when Elana, Ben and their kids drove down from Baltimore to relieve me. At 2:25 p.m. on Saturday, our family welcomed our newest member, Isabelle, a beautiful and healthy little baby to the world.

Why the name Isabelle? Well, in the Jewish tradition, children are usually named to honor the memory of a deceased, beloved ancestor – if not the actual name, at least the first initial. There were no “I’s” in our family, at least not formally. But … In 1942 a little Jewish girl, Bella Flora Wach, went into hiding to escape Nazi persecution in Belgium. Her parents placed her in a convent as a novice. She lived in the convent for about six months, where she learned many Catholic prayer rituals (later in the war, her ability to recite the rosary saved her life when she was trapped in a cellar during an air raid, surrounded by German soldiers). She survived the war, moved to the United States and met my father at a Penn State football game in Pittsburgh. The rest, as they say, is my history. Fast forward to 2013, and her great granddaughter Ella Flora, whom she did not live to meet, was named in her honor. Now in 2018, another great granddaughter is named for a little girl who never actually lived but whose ephemeral life was responsible for the existence of two children, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren (and counting). She was the assumed identify of my mother, and her name was Isabelle Lambrecht.

Have a good week. I know I will.

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Jan 29 2018

Minnesota Dreaming

(Sunday, January 28) — I hope you had a nice weekend. I got a fair amount of CCSG work done, but our weekend was fairly social – we hosted a wedding shower for someone on Saturday, and went to a get-together on Sunday hosted by some friends before going out for dinner with our son Ken and his wife Sarah for his birthday. His actual birthday is not until February 12, but Sarah is due then, so we decided it was prudent to jump the gun a bit. It’s hard to believe (and unbelievably wonderful) that one of our “babies” is soon going to be a father of three. How time flies.

The past week was highlighted for me by my Friday visit to NCI to be a guest speaker at the Clinical Center, supplemented by a number of very interesting meetings. I spoke about work being done in my lab to better understand mechanisms of resistance to immune attack using in vitro and in vivo models. It was a great chance to talk up work led in my lab over the last few years by Joe Murray and Dalal AlDeghaither on the in vitro model, and by Sandy Jablonski, Casey Shuptrine and Chris Grant on the in vivo model. The talk was well received and I left the NCI feeling as if we are on the right track to understanding important principles related to immunotherapy resistance.

Needless to say, the entire week had a surreal aspect for me and every fan of the Philadelphia Eagles as they gear up for their Super Bowl appearance this coming Sunday. My Philly friends and family tell me that the city is going nuts – not especially surprising, and curiously heartwarming. We had our DC-based Super Bowl party all planned, and then I was offered two tickets to the actual game. I could not say no. So, our son David (a crazy Eagles fan) and I are flying out to Minneapolis on Saturday afternoon, staying at an Airbnb (my first time using such an arrangement; all hotel rooms are sold out – he gets the air mattress) and flying out very early on Monday morning. He will return to DC (along with my cold weather gear) while I continue on to California for several meetings.

Do not expect a blog from me next week; irrespective of the outcome of the game I will be way too distracted to sit down and write!

Have a great week.

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Jan 22 2018

Flying!

Well, this is going to be a short blog. The NFC Championship game just ended and the Eagles are going to the Super Bowl, following a trouncing of the Minnesota Vikings. I am both shocked (I expected a tight game) and thrilled. Eagles fans are both passionate and long-suffering, so this is a special moment for many people.

Harriet and I returned from a brief wedding anniversary trip on Sunday afternoon, and got home in plenty of time for the game. I have a really busy week ahead of me, but the memories of this game will keep me smiling for quite some time.

Have a great week.

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Jan 16 2018

Dreaming of a Championship

(January 16, 2018) — I hope you enjoyed the weekend and made good use of the opportunity offered by the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday. My week was, as usual, quite busy, punctuated by a fundraising trip in North Carolina on Wednesday. On Friday afternoon, Harriet and I drove up to Philly to attend a family event on Saturday. It was a horrible drive (rain, fog, traffic) but we were able to get there in time to have a wonderful dinner with friends on Friday. After a very long Saturday, we headed back south on Sunday. I was pretty wiped out by the end of it all, but must say that being in Philly to watch the Eagles win a thrilling victory over Atlanta in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs was a lot of fun! The city was absolutely over the moon about the team.

Our son David now wants to get tickets for this Sunday’s NFC championship game in Philly; if he succeeds I will be there!

Have a good week.

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Jan 08 2018

Frozen Blog

Happy New Year! Well, is it cold enough for you? Even my New England friends grudgingly agree that it has been a bit nippy out there. On Wednesday evening, I was finishing up at work and Harriet called me, telling me to get home right away because there was a flood on the ground floor of our house, and water was pouring out of the ceiling above. I hurried home to find that a water sprinkler pipe in the master bathroom of our neighbors’ home (which is attached to ours) had burst, and their fire sprinklers had activated, turning the three bottom floors of their home into the equivalent of a tropical rainforest in the midst of an extended cloudburst. Our neighbors were away (trapped by the “bomb cyclone” snowstorm in North Carolina) so a group of us (led by Harriet) sprang into action, turning off the water, getting a plumber out, rescuing what valuables we could from water damage and getting a flood control outfit out to the house for immediate cleanup.

Our neighbors returned on Friday, and it looks as if the extensive repair of their home will take about six months. Our repairs will be minor, thankfully. Moral of the story: check your pipes in the winter, even if you live in the DC region …

The rest of the week had less drama, though I caught whatever the bug du jour is in day care centers this winter, and dragged myself home on Thursday afternoon, and stayed home on Friday. I was able to keep up with emails, but really didn’t feel up to doing any major writing. I recovered enough to get work done over the weekend, though Isaac came over for a sleepover on Saturday evening, so it was not all work.

My major task over the next few weeks is to complete my 30-page Director’s Overview and Six Essential Characteristics section of the CCSG competitive renewal. It is beginning to take shape but is quite a challenge – imagine sharing all we need to describe in only 30 pages.

Next week shapes up as being very busy. However, my “Dark Skies” app tells me it will be warmer, with Spring-like temperatures on Friday. By then we should be thawed.

Have a good week.

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Dec 18 2017

Jet Lag

(December 17, 2017) — Greetings on Sunday night. I am reasonably content because the Eagles edged the woeful Giants to clinch a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs, though they no longer appear capable of a deep run in the playoffs.

I also am jet lagged. This is not an opinion – it is evidence-based. I was in Switzerland for a meeting that was held on Friday. I flew out late Wednesday, arrived Thursday at about noon, grabbed a couple of hours of sleep, had to attend a dinner, and then had to work all day Friday. I flew back on Saturday, getting home at about 4 pm. I technically got enough sleep while I was away, but as I write this blog at 6 pm, my body is screaming that it is past midnight.

The week started on Monday with my usual range of meetings, punctuated by a trip out to MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Tuesday was highlighted by a really interesting all-day retreat of the Molecular Oncology program, which was organized by Jeff Toretsky and orchestrated by Rabin Roy. By the way, congratulations to Jeff on his election as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors!

I had to step out in the middle of the day, because Coach Patrick Ewing and two of his players stopped by the Ground Bles chemotherapy infusion area to join me in visiting with patients. The coach and his players were delighted to visit, and I believe we may have started a new tradition (photo!). Now, as you know, I am pretty tall, and have not been the shortest man in a crowded room for a very long time, but one of the patients we visited is 6”7”, and here I was in his room, dwarfed by him, the Coach and his two players as well.

Coach Ewing sure is tall – this is an evidence-based observation that is not subject to outside interpretation. Here’s another bit of fact-based evidence: over the past 300 years, the quest to advance knowledge to illuminate the truth has created miracles. It will continue to do so; nothing – and nobody – can stop us as long as we persist in our shared mission. As we all know from our own work, the road to truth is not linear – some research findings are rendered obsolete or inaccurate as new findings emerge. We always question the present, and we should as we search for deeper meanings and better understandings. But we must question established truth with a reverence for facts that form the basis of transformative discovery. The arc of history towards the truth is certain if not always steady, and the results speak for themselves in the miracles of scientific advances, the prevention and cure of human diseases and the lengthening of the human lifespan.

This is my last blog for 2017. It has been a privilege to share my thoughts with you this past year. As we head into 2018 I wish you holidays filled with peace, joy and happiness. And that’s the truth.

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