An Unexpected Opportunity, a Welcome Honor
During Sunday’s opening ceremonies for the 101st annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), NCI Director Dr. John E. Niederhuber received the AACR Award for Distinguished Public Service. In presenting the citation, the organization’s 2009–2010 president, Dr. Tyler Jacks, director of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the David H. Koch Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, lauded Dr. Niederhuber for being a “nationally renowned surgeon and researcher,” who has “dedicated his career to the treatment and study of cancer.” The comments below are taken from Dr. Niederhuber’s acceptance remarks.
Thank you, Tyler, for that very kind tribute, and also for your excellent leadership of AACR during your presidential year. Dr. Margaret Foti [AACR Chief Executive Officer], I would also like to thank you for your tireless and visionary guidance of this great society as its executive director, and, of course, I am immensely grateful that my colleagues on the AACR board of directors have thought me worthy of this honor, which I am most humbled to accept.
It has been a truly unexpected opportunity and a great honor to have been chosen to lead the National Cancer Institute and the National Cancer Program. When I first came to NCI in the summer of 2005, I promised to stay a year to help with a couple of challenges. That plan quickly—and quite unexpectedly—changed, and within 2 months, I was responsible for running the largest institute at NIH. I am grateful that my former colleague from Johns Hopkins University and dear friend Dr. Elias Zerhouni, the NIH director, had the confidence in me to push for my permanent appointment as NCI director, which I think is, by far, the best and most important job in government. These 5 years have been a wonderful experience and, as I said, a very humbling honor.
There is, however, one person who is not overly impressed by this honor: my 102-year-old mother. As she reiterated on the phone last night, my mother has never quite accepted that I no longer care for patients or perform surgery.
I have been blessed in my life beyond words. For reasons I will never understand, I was given an opportunity to study medicine, to teach students of medicine, and train surgeons. I have had my own laboratory and, throughout my career, been part of both the basic science faculty and the clinical faculty. But above all, I have been entrusted with the care of some truly remarkable human beings. I cannot, in any way, imagine a more personally rewarding life, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
So I accept this award on behalf of my colleagues at the National Cancer Institute. You are the hardest working group of selfless professionals I have ever been so fortunate to lead. You have taught me much and inspired me greatly.
And finally, I would not be standing here before you this morning were it not for the many, many talented students and fellows who worked in my labs over the years; the many outstanding trainees in surgery, a number of whom are now leading their own departments and programs across the country; and the patients with cancer who had the confidence to place their care in my hands. It is my patients who have taught me the most important lessons of humility, the value of service, and the strength of perseverance.
Thank you again for this great honor. I shall cherish it always, and I will never forget this moment.
Dr. John E. Niederhuber
Director, National Cancer Institute