Surgical Fellowship, 2005
University of Michigan Medical School
After completing the surgical oncology fellowship at Memorial in 2006, I returned to Madison, Wisconsin to join the faculty of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. I have the privilege of caring for patients with sarcomas and hepatic, pancreatic, and gastrointestinal malignancies. My research laboratory is investigating the immunosuppressive properties of cancer in the hope of identifying therapeutic strategies with which this clinically undesirable influence may be overcome.
On this 15 year anniversary of the Kristen Ann Carr Fellowship, I have been asked to offer a brief update of my whereabouts since leaving MSKCC. This momentary opportunity for retrospection illuminates my own maturing understanding of what Dr. Brennan meant when he (often) warned us fellows that the training program at MSKCC “is not an academic finishing school.” I have to admit that I did not fully understand (nor believe) that sentiment while I was there; with the added experience of the past two years under my belt, I think I am starting to understand its truth. As I am sure the other former Kristen Ann Carr Fellows will attest, the learning curve during the beginning of an academic surgical career is fairly steep. Some lessons come in the form of victories – a follow-up scan showing no evidence of disease, a funded research grant application, a subtle refinement in operative technique. Others come as defeats – a scan showing an unexpected tumor recurrence, a flawed laboratory experiment, a miserable operative complication. With cancer, these lessons sometimes seem to come randomly and without reason, and the pain of defeats always seems much more potent and durable than the elation of victories. I would be lying if I said that doubts about embarking on a career against cancer have never crossed my mind. I counter these doubts with something else Dr. Brennan recently told me: “Just keep in mind that Michelangelo at the age of 87 still said, ‘ancora imparo.’” This means “still I am learning.” (Of course, I had to look that up.) I suppose that the easy and difficult lessons of cancer surgery will continue, but this inevitability is cause not only for sadness and loss but also for excitement and wonder. For this, I will always remain wholeheartedly grateful to the Kristen Ann Carr Foundation.