Chapter 15: A Key Publication: Making Cancer History

Title

Chapter 15: A Key Publication: Making Cancer History

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In this chapter, Mr. Stuyck tells the story of how Making Cancer History, a history of MD Anderson came to be written. Dr. James Olsen, a historian at Sam Houston State University, originally approached Dr. James Bowen with the idea, however the Management Board under Dr. Charles LeMaistre had no enthusiasm for the project.

Mr. Stuyck speculates on why this was the case, then goes on to trace how the Historical Resources Committee was created under Dr. Stephen Tomasovic, with a first goal of producing a history of the institution. He explains the lengthy process of looking for a writer and the eventual hiring of Dr. Olsen, as well as securing Johns Hopkins University Press to publish it.

Mr. Stuyck recalls that he and Stephen Tomasovic [Oral History Interview] both read the manuscript.

Mr. Stuyck says that Making Cancer History is a great book that tells history in a human way. He also talks about his favorite chapter. Next he next talks about what it meant for the institution to have a book that celebrates the culture. He speaks about the number of documents James Olsen reviewed as part of his research, the committee members who worked on it, and what was done to promote it.

Identifier

StuyckSC_03_20130627_C15

Publication Date

6-27-2013

Topics Covered

Overview; MD Anderson History; MD Anderson Culture; Institutional Processes; Understanding the Institution; The MD Anderson Ethos; Devices, Drugs, Procedures; The Value of the Oral History Project; Institutional Politics; The MD Anderson Brand, Reputation; Giving Recognition; Understanding the Institution; The MD Anderson Ethos

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Today is June 27, 2013. It is 10:07 in the morning, and I am in the Historical Resources Reading Room. I am here this morning with Steve Stuyck for our third session. Thank you very much for agreeing to do this.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

I’m amazed that I have three sessions worth of stuff to say, but I’m glad to be here.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, people are always very surprised that they have so much to say. They’re shocked. In fact, I got a little note from Ralph Freedman when he got his transcript, and he said, “I had no idea I had that much to say.” Which was kind of cool.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Yeah, absolutely.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Very cool, and I was glad—

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

I’m nervous about seeing that transcript.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well—

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

—and what it looks like, but I look—I’ll—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well—

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

I’m ready.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Good, good.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Okay.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, I wanted to start by asking you about the book, Making Cancer History, and how that came to be in your role in it.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Well, in the—I wish I could remember the date, but in the late 1980’s, this youngish guy from Sam Houston State University, Jim Olson, approached Jim Bowen, who was our Vice President for Academic Affairs, about writing a history of MD Anderson. It was totally his idea. And Jim asked me to meet with the two of them, and Jim Olson, and Jim Bowen, and I had lunch together in the Searls Conference Room. It was the first time we had met him, and we learned about his story at the time, his long time as an MD Anderson patient and his credentials and that sort of thing, and he proposed writing this history where we would give him carte blanche access to our records and materials, and he would pursue the book—a book. Jim and I brought it to the Management Committee—it was then called the President’s Executive Board, under Dr. LeMaistre’s leadership, and we thought it was a done deal. That who would be anything but thrilled about the notion—I think we were thinking in terms of having something for our 50th anniversary Golden Jubilee which would have been in time for 1991. We were very surprised that it was greeted without enthusiasm, especially by Dr. LeMaistre. Dr. LeMaistre often talked in kind of vague terms, and he talked about whether, “Was this right time?” and that kind of thing. “Had enough time gone by to make a history worthwhile?” and that sort of thing. And to make a long story short, they turned it down. Both Jim Bowen and I were stunned. We just didn’t see the politics of that or see it coming, but it was rejected. Jim broke the news to Jim Olson, and that was the end of the project. So then we jumped forward a number of years. Dr. Mendelsohn had arrived, things have changed, all that sort of thing. By the way, let me backtrack a minute and say, I think part of the reason was, that there were recent episodes in the history of MD Anderson that Dr. LeMaistre thought needed to be enjoyed more the distance of history before—of time before they got into it. There had been a huge movement underfoot to merge the UT Science Health Center with MD Anderson, which we fought. Dr. Conrad had been murdered in his office and that had gone unsolved. There were some other things like that were a little troublesome in our history. So many years go by. Under Steve Tomasovic’s leadership, the Historical Resources Committee is created. We hire an archivist. One of the first projects we worked on was finding someone to write the history of MD Anderson, like we had just forgotten from years ago that it had been turned down here, and suddenly it’s a go. First we did some work in understanding what histories were all about. I think you mentioned Martin Melosi before.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Uh-hunh (affirmative).

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

We invited him to come out and talk with us. He was very insightful and gave us many good ideas about history. We wrote an RFP, a Request for Proposals, and we outlined what we were trying to achieve and what we were offering the person who got this job. We had been gathering a list of potential people and groups who might write the history, and we sent this RFP out, including to Jim Olson, who had years before had the idea himself. Then we invited three or four groups to come and meet with us and let us hear more about them. I think in fairness, we were not impressed by anybody that we saw. There was a group from Rice [University], there was a group from U of H [University of Houston], there were a couple of independent people, and we were—a guy here in the Medical Center who wanted a faculty appointment in order to write the history. We were not impressed by any that we—we were quite disappointed, and we had been much more hopeful, and we thought, “Well, what are we going to do about this?” On a whim, I called—in desperation, called Jim Olson, who I had met years before. He was still at Sam Houston, and he acknowledged it. He said, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen the RFP. I remember that. I was just real busy, and I didn’t really feel I could commit the time to it.” So we invited Jim to come here to Houston and really Steve Tomasovic and I kind of begged the guy to do the job. I mean that would be the fairest way of putting it. We knew he was the one. The time was right, and he was the one, and we were so eager to have him do it, but he had such a full plate. He had written all these books, and he had been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and was a Sam Houston State Distinguished Professor, and on and on and on. He finally agreed to do it, and it took him a long time. I think that Jim probably worked on that book for probably from the first day until the completed manuscript was delivered. Probably seven years, and he also, because of his reputation, was able to secure Johns Hopkins as a publisher, rather than self-publishing the book, and we thought that went a long way in adding to its credibility and stature. And of course, as I’m sure you know, in the midst of this and what it made it take so long, was that Jim was diagnosed with a second primary cancer midway through the process, and he went through rigorous treatment and great depression that he’s talked about and starts and stops, and I think it was just a triumph that he would complete that book and complete it in such a wonderful way. Just really remarkable. I remember distinctly I read the book in pieces at least three times, chapters as they come along and give him feedback and that sort of thing. The last—I can’t recall the year—but it was during the Christmas season just before the final manuscript was to go to Hopkins, and I read it one more time during the Christmas—there was a lull in work during that time and for several weeks, Dr. Mendelsohn, who read it all very carefully, Dr. Mendelsohn and I worked together on final edits and comments on that final manuscript. Then it was done. It’s just—I wish more people were aware of and knew, because I think it’s a great book that tells the history in a very—kind of a—tells stories and tells it in a human sort of way. My favorite chapter in the book is the one about the 10th International Cancer Congress of 1970, which occurred before I came to MD Anderson, but was still vivid in people’s memories when I arrived. And it paints this picture—Jim does a wonderful job of painting this picture of the tension and anxiety and angst that was at MD Anderson as they came toward this. It was a real coming of age activity for MD Anderson and everyone, Dr. Clark and others, were determined that it be perfect, and there was all kinds of anxiety about making it turn out just right. When I read the chapter, I could feel how anxious and everyone was to get this thing right.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Uh-hunh (affirmative). Yeah, he has the historian’s ability to create drama in—

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Yes, that’s it exactly. Create drama.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, and he does it really well. I read it, too, before I—in preparation for doing this project, obviously, and I was really impressed with it as a book. What do you think it meant for MD Anderson to have a book like that? A comprehensive history?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Well, I think that we have a wonderful story to tell. Maybe most institutions do. I read several of them. I read the Cleveland Clinic’s book, which was very good. I’ve read some that were bad. The UT Medical School book, which was not good, but I think codifying, putting down on paper the things that have happened—history is just a very important part of celebrating the culture of a place, and I thought it was wonderful that Hopkins would choose to publish it. I mean that just said that we were presenting MD Anderson, warts and all, the most important things without trying to gloss over any aspects of the past, and I think that’s really important, that we try to tell the history as accurately as possible. One thing that I did discover, because like I said, I read every word at least three times and some more in the process, the human memory can fail you. There were several times when I said, “No, that’s not the way that happened.” And Jim said, “Oh yes it is, and here’s the paper that shows it.” And I couldn’t—“I’ll be darned. That is right.” When I read what other people said, it was interesting how people—just you know—it’s different for different people. Their recollections, and there are two sides to a story and that sort of thing. So it was very eye-opening for me. I learned several things I didn’t know before, and Jim, what I admired so much about him, is he went through tens of thousands of pages of documents. He didn’t just rely on interviews with people, but merged that with the official record of things. He flew to Washington and interviewed people at NCI and other places. But the paper that he collected was really phenomenal, and I know it was well into the hundreds of thousands of pages that he photocopied, and I hope he’s turned them over to Javier in the Center. It was great fun to work on that book. I loved the people we worked with. The little committee, Steve Tomasovic, Ralph Freedman, Walter Pagel, Mary Jane Schier, a couple of others who worked with us on this. We had great meetings and very interesting to talk about the past years.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What was done to promote the book?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Well, we did a lot at the time. I can’t remember everything really, but we had a book-signing event for—we had several. A member of our Board of Visitors hosted a book-signing party at Tony’s Restaurant, which drew a lot of attention. We had several events here at the institution for people. News releases and things like that—Kirkus Reviews and those kinds of things.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I wonder if it’ll be revitalized with the upcoming anniversary.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Oh, that’s a good—what’s the upcoming anniversary?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

The seventy-fifth.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Seventy-fifth. Oh that, well that’s a good—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

In 2016.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

I hope so. I hope that people—you know, I grew up with MD Anderson. When I came here I was only twenty-five, and because I was here a long time, I grew to appreciate the history because I lived some of it. And I hope that future generations take that interest in history in the way we have.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Uh-hunh (affirmative). I know I’ve talked to some people who say, “You know you turn on Bertner Avenue.” Nobody evening knows who that refers to. There are buildings and streets around here named for really significant individuals who literally shaped the institution and people are completely unaware of those connections.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

So you’ve been involved in history a long time. What makes people get interested in history? Some of us are and some of us aren’t.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, I think the key is that people can begin to connect what happened in the past to how they live their lives and how they do their work today, and I think the challenge is to make that connection for people—to connect the dots for them—to start to connect the dots so that they will take an interest and want to connect the dots themselves.

Conditions Governing Access

Redacted

Chapter 15: A Key Publication: Making Cancer History

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