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ASCO Remembers Pioneering Radiation Oncology Leader and Public Health Champion Dr. C. Norman Coleman

Mar 05, 2024

ASCO joins the oncology community in mourning the passing of C. Norman “Norm” Coleman, MD, a pioneer in the field of radiation therapy and research, a devoted public servant, and a senior leader within the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Dr. Coleman passed away on March 1, 2024, from dedifferentiated liposarcoma; he was 79.

“We have lost a treasured colleague,” said Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, FACS, FASCO, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and past ASCO president. “Dr. Coleman was a supremely talented clinician researcher who cared deeply for patients, particularly those who have often been unable to access the benefits of biomedical research. His commitment to care for Native American communities demonstrated this so well. He has long been an inspiration to me personally, and I know he leaves an enduring legacy in the countless lives that he touched.”

Dr. Coleman was an active ASCO volunteer throughout his career and served on the Board of Directors from 1993 to 1996. He previously served on the JCO Global Oncology editorial board, the Ethics Committee, the Membership Advisory Committee, the Special Awards Selection Committee, and the Nominating Committee, as well as volunteering for many years as a peer reviewer for ASCO journals.

Prior to his passing, Dr. Coleman was the associate director for the Radiation Research Program and senior investigator in the Radiation Oncology Branch in the Center for Cancer Research at the NCI. He was also senior medical advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Before joining the NCI staff in 1999, he held faculty positions at Stanford University and Harvard Medical School.

In addition to his work as a radiation oncologist and clinical researcher, Dr. Coleman was highly engaged on matters of public and community health and health equity throughout his career. In 2013, he co-founded and served as senior scientific advisor to the International Cancer Expert Corps (ICEC), a nonprofit organization that aims to improve cancer care, reduce health disparities, and build workforce capacity in low- and middle-income countries and low-resource areas in high-income countries through mentorship and partnerships. He was actively involved in the response to world events, such as the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and resulting concerns about improvised nuclear devices and the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident, for which his exceptional efforts and evidence-based approach were recognized with a 2011 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal. In 2023, he received the D.A. Henderson Lifetime Achievement Award from the ASPR in honor of his contributions and commitment to medicine, science, public health, and health security.

Dr. Coleman was the recipient of innumerable awards and honors, widely recognized for his pioneering research in radiation oncology, and an accomplished triathlete. In 2019, he and his wife, Karolynn F. Coleman, coauthored the book Mindfulness for the High Performance World, an evidence-based practical guide to mindfulness and balance.

“Norm Coleman was one of a kind,” said Nancy R. Daly, MS, MPH, CEO of Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation. “He was funny, smart, kind, always ahead of his time in his thinking. He made unique and significant contributions to the oncology community in the area of hypoxia and cancer treatment, but also and especially in the care of underrepresented populations. He was a great collaborator who taught me (and countless others) oncology while treating everyone as an equal colleague and partner. I know how much he adored his wife, Karolynn, and how proud he was of his children and grandchildren. Our community has suffered a great loss and I will miss him always.”

Read more about Dr. Coleman’s life and legacy in a tribute published by the ICEC.


Martin W. Oster, MD

Mar, 09 2024 9:53 AM

When I came to the NCI in 1973 as a Clinical Associate, I "inherited" Norm's patients.  I will always remember his kindness, compassion, intelligence, and, especially, his sense of humor.  He was a superb physician and, more importantly, a true "mensch."


James A. Zwiebel, MD, FACP

Mar, 09 2024 10:09 AM

Norm was both a valued colleague at the NCI and a good friend. In addition to his many contributions as a scientist and a promoter of the safety of individuals both here and abroad, he was an extraordinary athlete, having completed many Iron Man triathlons that continued into his 70s.

He is much missed.

James Zwiebel, MD

Richard A. Bender, MD, FACP

Mar, 09 2024 1:02 PM

I have known Norm and been privelged to call him my friend since we were fellows together at the NCI in 1973. We have shared a million laughs over his ridiculous and witty sense of humor and have remained in touch throughout all the years. We last got together at a meeting in Lima, Peru at which we were both invited to speak. The evening of the meeting our host, Dr. "Phil" Larrain, invited us to the prestigious and exclusive Club Nacional in Lima where all women must be accompanied by men and cannot be seated alone. This, of course, prompted a series of hilarious remarks by Norm with Karolyn's famous retort of "Norman!". When we finally sat down to dinner, Norm thought that he might try an "off the menu" item as an appetizer and suggested "chopped liver pate". Both the waiter and our host were beside themselves and another appetizer was chosen after I excused mysefl to change my underwear. Norman was a gem and a true friend and physician. I will never remove his name from my cellphone contacts. Our heart goes out to Karolyn and his family. We miss him already. He was indeed a mensch of the best kind!. Fondly, Rich Bender


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