At the 2011 ASCO Annual Meeting, Mark G. Kris, MD, received the Society’s inaugural Humanitarian Award
. The ASCO Humanitarian Award honors an oncologist who personifies ASCO’s mission and values by going above and beyond the call of duty in providing outstanding patient care through innovative means or exceptional service and leadership in voluntary, uncompensated endeavors in the United States or abroad.
Dr. Kris’ professional colleagues often get to observe these attributes first-hand in his role as Chief of the Thoracic Oncology Service and the William and Joy Ruane Chair in Thoracic Oncology at Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center, as well as Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.
However, it’s Dr. Kris’ volunteer work that best captures the spirit of the Humanitarian award. According to an ASCO Daily News
article, Dr. Kris made approximately six trips to Dulac, Louisiana, between 2006 and 2009, to help families rebuild homes devastated by Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2009.
Dulac local—Reverend Kirby Verret of Clanton Chapel United Methodist Church—worked closely with Dr. Kris on rebuilding efforts. Together, with other volunteers, they removed debris and wreckage from flooded homes.
“This was dirty work with the possibility of injuries or infections,” said Rev. Verret in an interview with ASCO Connection
. “The work also required respect for the families who may be poor but who should be treated with human dignity in these difficult situations. And of course, it was hot and sweaty work, but very necessary work that a family could not afford to pay for.”
Rev. Verret characterized Dr. Kris’ outlook as optimistic with a “passion to get going.” “Some people may have looked at all the needs and said, ‘There is too much to do, I cannot make a difference.’ But Dr. Mark looked at the same situation and worked step by step to do something and not look back,” said Rev. Verret.
Often, when other volunteers and workers were ready to go and eat or it was time for the group to quit for the day, Dr. Kris remained determined to complete a job. “This was not done to try and outdo others,” said Rev. Verret, “but because he wanted to go as far as he could each day to help a family. Dr. Mark saw the needs and wanted to truly do something to make a difference in a family’s life.”
During their time together, Dr. Kris’ passion for humanity truly shined through for Rev. Verret. “It almost seems that he felt what people were going through and he wanted to bring relief as soon as possible,” he said. “I really believe that Dr. Mark lives that approach in his personal and professional life.”
—by Elyse Blye, Senior Editorial Assistant