Wilmot's Dialogue Magazine: Celebrating 50 Years of “Unimaginable” Progress and a Bold Future

Apr. 26, 2024

The latest edition of Dialogue magazine from the Wilmot Cancer Institute is about progress, gratitude, and achievement, as the cancer center reaches its 50-year milestone.

Thanks to leadership by a group of forward-thinking physicians, the University Board of Trustees chartered the cancer center in 1974 as part of Strong Memorial Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Among the leaders: J. Lowell Orbison, MD, then Dean of the UR School of Medicine and Dentistry, boosted the cancer center from a division within URMC by appointing a committee to apply for a National Cancer Institute grant that would formalize the cancer center’s singular focus. These oncologists from different cancer specialties came together and got it done: Robert Cooper, MD, a surgical pathologist; John Bennett, MD, a hematologist/oncologist; Philip Rubin, MD, radiation oncologist; and cancer surgeon Brad Patterson, MD.

Around the same time, a first-year student at the University of Rochester was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, and by chance, Rubin was his physician. The former patient and UR alum, John Saunders, is now 66 years old, has raised a family with his wife, built a successful career, recently retired — and is celebrating 48 years cancer-free. He volunteered to tell his story in the context of the 50-year celebration. (page 2)

The magazine also highlights the lymphoma program, which has long been one of the cancer center’s strongest areas of research and patient care. Saunders had the best treatment at the time, but progress has exploded in subsequent years and Wilmot physician-scientists have been on the leading edge. (page 4)

In 1981, the James P. Wilmot Foundation was established to fund a fellowship program to train physicians in cancer research. That led to years of philanthropic support from the Wilmot family, as well as a new cancer center building that opened in 2008, and a rebranding as the Wilmot Cancer Institute.

Woven throughout this edition are examples of what the future holds — whether it’s new ways of engaging with the community to improve research (page 9); or a spotlight on David Linehan, MD, a former Wilmot executive, clinical trials leader, and a surgical oncologist, who was recently named CEO at URMC and Dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry (page 12).

Due to scientific teamwork, innovative technology, and community support, progress made against cancer since those early days 50 years ago is “unimaginable,” says Wilmot Director Jonathan Friedberg, MD, MMSc. “Even better days lie ahead.”