Abdallah, who is currently senior vice president of Worldwide Medical Oncology at Bristol Myers Squibb, had once felt that little could be done for cancer, especially after witnessing a friend in medical school grapple with the disease. He had accordingly planned his career to go in a different direction, but all that changed when he read the paper about immunotherapy. Now, he felt called to make a difference in this new field.
“I had an epiphany. I said, ‘This is what I have to do with my life.’”
Soon, Abdallah had accepted an academic position and moved from the U.S. to Brazil, collaborating with colleagues to put immunotherapy research into motion. Years later, one of his former colleagues, a close friend, shared sad news – a routine procedure had unexpectedly led to a diagnosis of cancer. The friend immediately began treatment and underwent surgery, but the illness took a toll.
“I flew to Brazil to visit my friend, and I saw the difference in him. He had lost so much weight. He was so thin,” said Abdallah.
Despite receiving top-notch care, Abdallah’s friend did not have a good prognosis after surgery because the initial pre-surgical treatment had failed to eliminate residual disease, and there was a high risk of recurrence in the near future. “There was so little we could do to treat cancer following surgery back then,” said Abdallah, who kept in constant contact with his friend. “You feel so impotent. You feel powerless.”
As feared, the cancer returned, and Abdallah’s friend passed away, leaving behind a wife and young child. Family and friends struggled to cope with the loss of the man Abdallah called “the most amazing and kind person you can find.”