A Bit of An Embarrassment

A Bit of An Embarrassment


Leonard Zwelling

         Imagine my surprise seeing Dr. Karen Lu on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on
Sunday, but no worries, she is not running for the GOP Presidential nomination.

is one of several MD Anderson faculty members (none of whom are identified, so
why believe them to be experts?) in the newest marketing pitch to make cancer
history. It is a very interesting ad with a stark white or light bluish
background behind the talking heads that I assume belong to patients, doctors
and other caregivers. I only knew Karen and Steve Frank of radiotherapy.
There’s no real way to know who everyone in the ad is or what his or her role
at Anderson is. (For all a viewer knows, these could be actors). They just all
are going to end cancer.

is fine coming from lay people (what my father-in-law, the great pulmonary
pathologist Jerome Kleinerman, would call civilians), but not from the MD
Anderson faculty who really ought to know better. It is an embarrassment.

         I am all for marketing in the tough, competitive environment
that cancer care has become, especially in Houston. There are many cancer
centers here—Baylor, Memorial Hermann, Methodist and Kelsey-Seybold, not to
mention Texas Children’s Hospital. Cancer Treatment Centers of America
advertise here despite having no treatment facility in the state as far as I
know (closest is Tulsa). Texas Oncology (I counted 12 locations in Houston and
Katy, 2 in Webster and 2 in The Woodlands plus additional sites in Kingwood,
Tomball, and Pearland) also has ads on television for cancer care. It is not the Anderson-dominated single provider landscape that greeted us when we got here in 1984. It’s
crowded and each providing organization is clawing for patients.

giving voice to this nonsense about making cancer history used to be beneath MD
Anderson when it was Fighting Cancer to eradicate its toll rather than
promising on television to actually exterminate the disease—termed “winning.” Past
ads focused on individuals WITH cancer, not defeating all of cancer. Given that
cancer is probably as natural a phenomenon as aging, evolution, and death, it
is not really a good idea to promise its eventual demise as if it were the next
infrastructure project on the government’s To-Do list or the next game on the
Texans schedule. 

         The public will only take us as seriously as we take
ourselves and for the faculty to give voice to such pseudo-science is something
I hope those involved do not live to regret.

         Each of us is responsible for what he or she says or does,
including when the cameras are rolling. My blackest day as a faculty member and
Vice President occurred when I was an apologist for Dr. Mendelsohn’s not making
his vested interest in the outcome of Erbitux trials known to 195 patients on those trials
with the antibody and then telling the Chronicle
and the media at-large we had done nothing wrong. We had. He had and then I
had. I was appropriately excoriated in the Chronicle’s
editorial section for my words.


swore I would never do it again, and I didn’t. I was fired twice for keeping my
promise to be true to myself and my professional values, once at Anderson and
once at Legacy.

         My problem is the same as The Donald’s except he has more
money. He calls it the way he sees it and if you don’t like it, he doesn’t
care. I have not reached that advanced level of self-actualization and thus
still care what others think of me, but at least I have not told any more lies
in public.

         If MD Anderson wants to advertise, advertise what it is
especially good at—cancer surgery (publish post-op recovery times), radiotherapy
(publish complication rates), and experimental chemotherapy and other forms of
systemic therapy (discuss open trials and contributions to medical knowledge).
Don’t give me the “making cancer history”
spiel like you’re the coach of the Green Bay Packers. It isn’t becoming of a
great institution and it isn’t becoming of its great faculty either.

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