Friday, January 25, 2013

Dr. Anna Meadows: Specializing in Survivorship

Dr. Anna Meadows, on to new challenges
 Dr. Anna Meadows was at the top of her game. The illustrious cancer researcher had pioneered the idea of “survivorship” – following children through life who had been cured of cancer in order to monitor the side effects of their treatment. She had been chief of oncology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and she had launched a new center within the National Cancer Institute.
Then, on December 31, 2010, Anna very determinedly walked away from it all.
“I didn’t want to do anything involved with medicine and haven’t for two years,” she said recently, as we prepared for a joint talk (along with former Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Flora Wolf) on unretiringat the Cosmopolitan Club. (More on Judge Wolf in a later blog)
“I just got tired of it. I’d had enough,” Anna  said. “I was bored.”
This is a sentiment I’ve heard often from creative, purposeful people who champion an issue like a lonely voice in the wilderness, only to find the challenge gone when everyone else finally catches up.
Survivorship was Anna Meadows’ issue.
“I started in 1975 to think about what would happen to children cured of cancer,” she said. Then, only 10 to 20 percent of children were making it through the disease.  Gradually she discovered the consequences of certain types of radiation, and began to work on clinical trials that changed treatment without sacrificing outcomes, but with fewer and less severe longterm complications.
 “I went to lots of meetings talking about survivorship and after 25 years, the rest of the world decided it was an issue. All of a sudden, it was as if they’d invented it,” she said. “For 25 years, I was beating my head against a wall. I could see what was going to happen…Where had they been?”
Today, she explained, 80 percent of kids are cured of their cancer. There’s even the Office of Cancer Survivorship, which she launched under President Clinton. And, unrelenting, she snagged seed money from Lance Armstrong’s foundation to set up a survivorship institute at Penn, where the issues of childhood cancer survivors are understood.
Then, said Anna,  “I decided it was time to quit.  There wasn’t anything more in medicine that I thought I could contribute, and I wanted to do other things.”
She craved a new challenge, and even contemplated law school 10 years ago. (Why not? she thought. After all, she’d entered medical school at age 34, tackling it as a mother of three.)
She eased her way out of CHOP.  “I worked part time for five years and started to do other things. I found a gradual transition helpful.”
She discovered a new calling in Penn’s Village, which is  neither Quaker nor a retirement home. It’s a burgeoning concept in an era when people want to “age in place” – stay in their homes until they’re carried out feet first, if at all possible.  To stay put, people may need support services – folks who can climb ladders, offer transportation, find plumbers, and help them with doctors’ appointments. And with this service focused on Center City, people can also continue to take advantage of the area’s flourishing cultural activities. That’s the mission of Penn’s Village, which aims to cover this “naturally occuring retirement community” or NORC.
Anna saw Penn’s Village as an opportunity to implement an idea that she had  been trying to launch – to help patients navigate the medical system. Now, she’s using her organizational skills – particularly her ability to run meetings and reach consensus – to “set up a protocol to help with people with their medical choices, empowering them to ask the right questions.”
Retirement, she says is “taking advantage of opportunities to expand on what you want to do and think you’re good at. You make use of the skills and knowledge of your professional life but do it in a different way.”
As for choices, Anna is relishing those she is making, post medicine.
 “My life is so full of things,” including her marriage and travel with cancer geneticist Alfred Knudson Jr., noted for coming up with the theory that cancer mutations require “two hits.” She’s president of the retired faculty at Penn. And she’s recently board emeritus of the New Century Trust, which supports women and girls.  More recently, she’s been energized by the Cosmopolitan Club, a historic women’s social group where she now chairs a program committee.
Instead of spending her days immersed with medical folks,  she now can “interact with people with different skills --  lawyers, artists, ministers” and more. “It’s made me quite satisfied.”
Oh, and I forgot. There’s her tennis game. Phew!

At 2 p.m. on January 29, Penn’s Village will host talk by Thelma Reese, co-author of “The ElderChicks’ Guide to the Rest of Your Life” at the Rittenhouse Square Free Library, 19th and Locust Streets, Philadelphia.
RSVP to or call  215-925-7333.

No comments: