Meet Lee M. Ellis, MD, FACS, FASCO

Mar 05, 2020

Professor of Surgery, and Molecular and Cellular Oncology, and The Ruben Distinguished Chair in Gastroenterology Cancer Research, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; executive director for Translational Research, MD Anderson Cancer Center Global Academic Programs; SWOG vice chair, Translational Medicine; and ASCO Board of Directors member

What led you to oncology?

LE: Initially, I was interested in gastrointestinal surgery. However, I had an incredible surgery chair during residency, Dr. Edward Copeland, who was truly inspirational. He viewed cancer from all perspectives: biology, treatment, survivorship, psychology, etc. He “humanized” cancer—this was a disease that impacted real people; patients were not a number or case. Dr. Copeland had just left MD Anderson to become the chair at the University of Florida in 1982, and taught me about cancer biology, humility, and our role in treating the whole patient, not just an organ.

What career could you see yourself in if you weren’t an oncologist?

LE: Growing up, I was a decent tennis player and had remote dreams of going pro. I played on my college tennis teams and in NCAA tournaments, but I certainly did not have the game to make it on tour. When I went to college, I was remotely interested in being an architect, but the colleges that I attended did not have programs in architecture. I liked the sciences, so going to medical school seemed like a good option.

What’s the last book you read? What did you think of it?

LE: John by Cynthia Lennon. I am a Beatles fanatic and saw the Beatles when I was 7. I have taken a deeper dive into the Beatles: their lives, lyrics, and philosophies. John Lennon was brilliant, insightful, funny, and had a huge heart. To most, he is misunderstood. Reading this book gave me tremendous insight into what motivated Lennon to become the philosophical genius that he was. If we lived by his principles, the world would be a better place.

What app or website do you check most often?

LE: I love Twitter! Twitter allows you to create your own news feed. My favorite news feeds include updates on clinical and translational oncology, great dog stories (I am a dog fanatic and weekends are committed to K-9 Angels Rescue), and, of course, Beatles history and trivia.

What hobbies do you enjoy?

LE: It used to be tennis, but a minor injury prevents me from playing now. My favorite hobby is walking rescue dogs at K-9 Angels Rescue each weekend and fostering when I can. These poor pups are just looking for love and a fur-ever home. K-9 Angels has also taught me about the wonderful nature of humans. The volunteers, fosters, and leaders of the rescue are selfless heroes!

What is your personal motto?

LE: “You are who you are when no one is looking.” If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you never will.

What do you think oncology will look like 10 years from today?

LE: We will be replacing chemotherapy with more refined immune therapy and precision medicine. Liquid biopsies will replace tissue biopsies regarding initial decision making and will also provide an early opportunity to intervene before clinically detectable cancer (radiographic) develops/recurs.

What would you say to a young physician who is thinking about entering the field of oncology?

LE: Diversify! Be prepared to recreate yourself, in some way, every 5 to 7 years. Continuously look for opportunities to expand your own skillsets, but don’t take on too many administrative roles too early. Take great care of the patient with cancer, integrate science into your practice, understand how therapy impacts patients and families, then implement novel ways to improve the challenging “journey” that patients and families face with therapy and survivorship.

Dr. Ellis is active on Twitter @recnac1.

Back to Top