Director's Corner

John L. Marshall, MD


I thought I was a compassionate oncologist at the peak of my medical career. I listened to patients, I understood their issues, fears, and needs; and I tried to respond to their needs. There was little else I could learn or experience that could possibly make me a better doctor — or so I thought.

Then my wife, Liza, was diagnosed with breast cancer. This was six years ago, in a moment neither my family nor I will ever forget. It was a moment that represented a major "reset" for me as a husband, father and oncologist. The impact of Liza's diagnosis on our friends and family is chronicled in a recent Arlington Magazine article. My practice has not been the same since my family's experience with Liza's cancer and her treatment.

Seeing cancer's impact from the other side—the patient and family side—has refocused me as a physician and remains a major fundamental motivation for the Ruesch Center and its quest to develop cures for cancer. Our center makes every effort to focus on the patient. From nurse navigation to expert clinical care, our job is to make the life-changing experience of cancer as positive as it can be for patients and their families. I want all of our patients to get the same level of care and compassion that Liza and I enjoyed (don't forget I work here).

To help us keep our focus on patients, we have adopted a mantra we call "patient partnering." Essentially, this means we double-check everything we do to ensure it supports our center's partnership with our patients and their families. Only by coupling our science and experience with each patient's participation, advocacy and support can we build the increased recognition and for GI cancer research funding and subsequent success in the clinic.

In December 2012, we hosted our annual symposium, "Fighting a Smarter War on Cancer," with a focus on clinical research barriers. Only 3% of adult cancer patients in the United States participate in clinical research; therefore, it is of little surprise that our progress has been overly slow. We spend a great deal of time focusing on how our internal medical systems could improve clinical trial participation, but what we heard from our outstanding faculty was that we need to start asking patients what they want from clinical research; what would make clinical trial enrollment highly desirable to them?

So we have started asking and listening.

This year, the Ruesch Center is taking on several projects to improve the clinical trial experience for patients and their families. We will be working on better trial information systems so that newly diagnosed patients have access to easily understandable web-based materials explaining trials and options. We will be holding a series of patient focus groups throughout our Washington community to obtain feedback and advice from our patient partners. We hope to pilot an electronic informed consent that will make the process of enrolling in a trial more educational and interactive. We will be developing a clinical trial ranking system that gives patients an immediate visual of how much extra time and risk is involved in a given trial.

And finally, we will be reaching out to our partners to help us obtain national recognition for patients who participate in trials—maybe one day you will hear an airline gate agent invite cancer clinical trial participants to board along with the military in uniform; before those with "elite" status!

Thanks for being our partners. Just as Liza and I were cared for as members of the Georgetown Lombardi family, the Ruesch Center team is singularly focused on providing you with the best care, access to cutting-edge therapies, the tools you need to be informed, and a "part-of-the-family" relationship with us.

Very best,

John L. Marshall, MD
Otto J. Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers
Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center