As an active member of ASCO, and as a leader of the Society in recent years, ASCO President Michael P. Link, MD, has a long history of giving to the Society-affiliated Conquer Cancer Foundation. “Our family has always felt that it’s a good thing to support,” he said. “The Foundation supports initiatives that we care about—from clinical and translational research, to ASCO’s educational programs, to the Young Investigator Awards that are so crucial to building our talent pipeline in cancer care and research.”
As a member of the ASCO Board of Directors, Dr. Link contributed generously to the Young Investigator Award, which is jointly funded by the Boards of Directors of ASCO and the Conquer Cancer Foundation. Then, last summer—just after he assumed the ASCO presidency—a personal and professional loss further intensified his relationship with philanthropy. James B. Nachman, MD, a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Chicago and an internationally renowned pediatric cancer expert, died suddenly last June while on an annual rafting trip with former patients in the Grand Canyon.
Dr. Link—who is the Lydia J. Lee Professor in Pediatric Oncology at Stanford University– is one of a group of pediatric oncologists who have established the James B. Nachman ASCO Junior Faculty Award in Pediatric Oncology to celebrate the memory of one of their own.
Establishing an Enduring Legacy
“Jim was well-known, well-liked, and a really good guy in addition to being a great physician and scientist,” Dr. Link recalled. He initiated a number of important studies and made significant contributions to the field of pediatric oncology. “He was a friend as well as a colleague and highly regarded in the international pediatric oncology community. His science and his wonderful sense of humor are already missed. A few of us got together to figure out how to establish something enduring in his memory. We agreed that ASCO was the place to do it, and that it should be something that reflected Jim’s interest in building the next generation of pediatric oncologists who are just getting started.”
They contacted the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO, and the Nachman Award was born.
“Within a heartbeat of getting the professionals at the Conquer Cancer Foundation involved, we had a spreadsheet reflecting how much money we would need, a sense of what it would take to get there, and a plan to make it happen,” said Dr. Link. “We’re already well on our way to endowing the award.”
Physician as Collaborator and Advocate
Medicine was always in Dr. Link’s sights—and, during medical school, it became clear that pediatric oncology was his passion. “This field gives you the best of both worlds,” he said. “You make an intervention over a long period of time, take a child and his family through a serious illness, and hopefully watch them emerge on the other side. You have the privilege of really becoming part of their lives.”
Over the years, ASCO has also become a passion—one that he hopes to share with more and more pediatric oncologists.
“With our history of high-impact clinical research and collaboration on clinical trials, pediatric oncologists should intuitively understand the value of being part of a multidisciplinary society like ASCO—now, more than ever,” he said. “Molecular pathways don’t know what tissue they’re in. And the scientific breakthroughs advanced by and disseminated by ASCO have enormous relevance for those of us who treat children with cancer. Pediatric oncologists actually have much more in common with other oncologists than they do with the other pediatric specialties represented in their departments.”
Over the years, Dr. Link said, he has gained a steadily increasing appreciation for ASCO’s public policy focus—a mission that is especially critical today.
“Virtually all of our curative therapies are based on drugs that are now in short supply, and ASCO is working hard to publicize and resolve this crisis—for all of us and for our patients,” he said. “The Conquer Cancer Foundation helps to fund that work—as well as the ASCO Annual Meeting, patient education programs, and scores of awards in support of clinical research—including our Young Investigator Awards, which are absolutely essential in today’s research environment, where it’s next to impossible to secure seed funds for early-career work.”
“No one provides those bridge funds—which allow young faculty to pursue their research, collect data, and establish the track records they need to secure support from the NIH, NCI, and other sources—in the same way and at the same scale as ASCO and the Conquer Cancer Foundation do through the Young Investigator Awards,” he continued. “It’s really a wonderful organization to support.”
To Touch the Future
In his clinical life, Michael Link touches the future.
One of the most rewarding aspects of treating children with cancer, he said, is watching them grow up. A former patient, now a surgeon himself, recently called to consult on a difficult case. Dr. Link regularly has coffee with another former patient who works at Stanford, and, he said, “we talk about kids, work, ordinary life topics, and cancer doesn’t come up. These are the stories that drive us to continue to do what we do each day.”
Philanthropy, he said, offers the same opportunity.
“Jim Nachman was exactly my age,” said Dr. Link. “When a friend and colleague dies, and especially when a friend dies suddenly, it really makes you stop and think. Am I ready? What am I leaving behind? The reality is that within two generations, the average person is unknown. Even the second generation of your family won’t remember you or know about the small, specific things that make you a unique individual. We wanted to say something about our friend’s life—to say this person made important contributions and shouldn’t be forgotten. Philanthropy has healing properties when you’ve experienced a loss, and also offers a unique opportunity to make an impact far into the future.” ■
SIDEBAR: About the Nachman Award
© 2012. American Society of Clinical Oncology. All Rights Reserved.
Plans call for the first James B. Nachman ASCO Junior Faculty Award in Pediatric Oncology to be awarded at the 2012 ASCO Annual Meeting. The award will be given each year to a junior faculty member who submits the highest-scoring abstract in pediatric oncology for the ASCO Annual Meeting, as...