Let us now praise


I’m behind on this news, but the man is immortal, so I suppose when he died has little weight. http://online.wsj.com/article/PR-CO-20130502-913224.html?mod=wsj_share_facebook

 I had the honor of meeting and hearing Emil ‘Tom’ Frei III M.D. and his co-worker Emil Freireich M.D. the pioneers of combination chemotherapy, nearly seventeen years ago when Professor Daniel Botkin organized a conference with the Santa Barbara Cancer Foundation’s Frederick Kass M.D. to examine and challenge the paradigm by which we view and treat cancer. 

What was said would now sound dated, but the ideas were marginal and provocative at the time. I love the fact that today our views on cancer have generally changed. Approaches to bringing the body’s best defenses to help in containing and controlling unregulated cell growth have been revolutionized. I’ll never know exactly what influence our conference had on these changes, but I suspect it had a part to play. Seventeen years ago, I remember looking wide-eyed at the researchers and clinicians in the room, just sucking in ideas with a greed that was insatiable. It was a feast, an extraordinary and inspiring couple of days that ended too soon. And you may ask indeed how my husband the paleobotanist and I, the landscape painter, should end up in that room. If you’re curious you can read the piece I wrote in 1999 in the Phillips Exeter Bulletin, ‘That We May Behttp://www.exeter.edu/documents/exeter_bulletin/summer_99/finis.htm


The last evening of the meetings came and we had a private dining room at the harbor restaurant. Everyone a little stunned from the energies and passions roused to fighting heat over the days past, all of us looking, I suppose, like we had spent too long drinking and not enough sleeping, a motley crew. Doctor Freireich had a flannel plaid shirt on, slumped a little, his usual vigor muted to the shambling look of a past-his-prime football star.

I watched him trying to make polite conversation with the fellow pouring his drink. Handsome waiter, a bit full of himself as some are, all but rolling his eyes at this faded sporty guy who looked outclassed by his setting, unfocused and dim. You could see him thinking this was someone’s embarrassed and embarrassing uncle. I saw the look, I saw the exchange of glances with the other servers and I stood up and walked over as though I could use another glass of wine.

“Chardonnay, please,” I said, and then I rolled my own eye back, expressive as I could make it. “Do you know who that is?” I said.

He did a small flinch, a flick of surprise.

“That man,” I said, hush-voiced, urgent like someone telling on a movie star. “You served him a minute ago.”

            “Who is he?” he said.

            “Doctor Emil Freireich, ” I said, as though I said ‘the Prince of Wales, but no one knows save you and me,’ “and the man he’s sitting with over there is Doctor Tom Frei. The tall older fellow with glasses.”


            “Those are the men who saved cancer patients. Invented a new approach to the treatment of leukemia and lymphoma,” I said. “The children used to die. No matter how hard the doctors tried they all died when they came up with those early-onset leukemias. Died horribly, no matter what way was tried to save them. But Frei and Freireich came up with a different way of handling the chemotherapy and they got not only remissions but cures. There are children playing ball,” I got a bit hoarse here, and repeated myself. “There are children who’ve grown up and whose own children play ball in the sun because of those men. Not just a couple, but thousands. Thousands who live without pain because of these men.”


            I went back to my table thinking that if I’d acted like some nut at least it had been a good nut and I felt better. A little shaky, maybe, as I usually feel when I’ve let myself get emotional before strangers. A few minutes later I saw the waiter go over to check on something at the other table. He lingered, a conversation ignited, smiles, comments. He shook hands all around.

            “I used to think I’d be a doctor,” I heard the waiter say, “but I had trouble with Chemistry. Maybe I’ll re-take it.”


I say to myself– thousands live without pain, their children play ball in the sun, because of these men, and I feel my throat go tight. There’s no neat ending to this anecdote, but, remember Frei and Freireich.


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