Plenty of children are afraid to go to the doctor. Dennis Slamon used to look forward to it.
“A career in medicine was what I wanted since I was 5 or 6, simply because of the remarkable doctor who took care of our family,” said Slamon, remembering the pediatrician who made house calls to treat him for a cold or flu. “He was very caring, very gentle, and very effective. I thought it would be great to be able to help people like that and make a family feel so good.”
Slamon, 62, the son of a coal worker and a homemaker, not only went on to become a physician, but also has realized his dream of helping people—hundreds of thousands of people, in fact. That’s how many patients have been treated with Herceptin (trastuzumab), the first molecularly targeted therapy for breast cancer.
During nearly 40 years spent researching and caring for patients, Slamon, now director of Clinical/ Translational Research at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), conducted the lab work and testing that resulted in Herceptin.
And when it comes to bedside manner, Slamon has lived up to his ideal, said Barbara Bradfield, the first patient to take Herceptin in phase I trials 19 years ago.
When Bradfield initially declined to take part in the trial, she said, Slamon called and begged her to reconsider.
“He worried all night, and he called me the next morning and asked me to go talk with him,” said Bradfield, who has had 12 tumors but has remained cancer-free since completing the trial. “When we met in person, he was so convincing. He’s got these beautiful, brown, soulful eyes, and he spent an hour and a half going through slides explaining everything, so I ended up saying yes—thank goodness.”
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