After DePinho


Leonard Zwelling

         Frank Bruni wrote a very perceptive op-ed piece in the Sunday NY Times of October 23.

         It is about after. Not the Jewish “after”

The Jewish After is the equivalent of later. So when Mr. Schwartz is dying in bed and wants only one last wish and that’s a piece of his wife’s noodle kugel, he’s disappointed. Mrs. Schwartz made a kugel, “but it’s for after.”

What will happen after The Donald goes down to defeat? What will the media and the public do without Donald Trump’s antics to focus the political and social discussion as it has for over a year? Bruni points out that no previous loser for the Presidency attracted as much attention after defeat as he did before. Not Gore, not Kerry, not McCain, not Romney. The only exception might have been Sarah Palin, but she was an aberrancy in every way.

         The question really is whether or not Trump will accept his defeat and quell his screaming followers with a concession speech and subsequent radio silence or will he try to stir the pot and create a new political movement (or television network), neither Democratic nor Republican and in so doing create civil unrest by defining the movement by what it is against. After all, this is what potential dictators do in undermining legitimate elections that they have lost.

         I believe that same thing will need to be dealt with by the MD Anderson community once Dr. DePinho is gone whether that is tomorrow, next week, or ten years after his starting date (2011) which is starting to look like the likely reality. It may just take The Ronald that long to go through all the money funding his academic drug company, the one smarter than all of big pharma, before the geniuses who are responsible for the fiduciary well-being of the UT cancer center realize they made a mistake.

         I was at Anderson for the LeMaistre to Mendelsohn transition. It was calm and peaceful and filled with good wishes to both men. Dr. LeMaistre vacated Houston and Dr. Mendelsohn had a clear road to start his tenure as the leader of America’s cancer center. And he did.

         The next transition was less smooth as no one really believed that Dr. Mendelsohn was ready to step down when he did and Dr. DePinho was a jarring choice as a non-oncologist, non-clinician. That transition became even rockier with the new president’s early speeches about curing cancer in five years and the subsequent shake-ups of personnel, both in and out. Moon Shots, shmoon shots. Where’s the beef?

         It will be up to the new president whoever he OR SHE might be and the faculty and staff to strike a far more conciliatory relationship than the one struck by Dr. DePinho who had people choosing sides within a week of his getting here.

         Dr. DePinho has his supporters and apologists among the staff and faculty. He has others who have opposed him since he arrived. Put me in that camp. I just thought his ideas did not mesh well with the mission of MD Anderson and his manner was frankly scary. I would argue that time has proven me correct.

         MD Anderson will survive and thrive in the future and I suspect in what will be the long and illustrious history written on MD Anderson’s 100th anniversary later this century, the past few years will, hopefully, be viewed as outliers, a period of lost focus and lost opportunities. The ones after DePinho can be filled with hope and promise. It’s up to you.

Leonard Zwelling