Remembering Prof Arti Hurria

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Published: 22 Nov 2018
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Dr William Dale, Dr Supriya Mohile

Dr William Dale and Dr Supriya Mohile discuss the legacy of Prof Arti Hurria, who passed away earlier this year.

Dr William Dale – City of Hope National Medical Center, Duarte, USA
Dr Supriya Mohile – University of Rochester Medical Center, New York, USA

WD: Arti Hurria was my colleague at City of Hope National Medical Center Cancer Centre. In fact when I came there a little less than two years ago she was the primary reason I came to City of Hope to work on issues around geriatric oncology. She was the undisputed leader of those of us working in the field and I was honoured to be a colleague of hers, both nationally and at City of Hope. What’s hard to appreciate was how much of an influence she had at City of Hope in her many roles, including as the Vice-Provost for Medical Affairs, along with her research team, along with her role in the Physician Wellness Group, along with having her own clinic. One thing that was always so amazing was she was so involved with so many things but however she was involved and whoever she was involved with she made you feel like you were the most important person there.

Last week, right after the accident, her patients were in clinic and I was asked to go and see her patients. For those of us who have seen how busy and active she is on the local scene, national scene, the amount of personalised care she managed to provide to her patients was overwhelming. They all felt this personal connection that so many people did; it was amazing to see that she could have that impact in so many ways. Nearly every person at the campus who you walked up to had a story to tell you about something with Arti, that they’d met, talked with her and how it made a difference to them in their lives. The institution was so affected by her loss that they flew the flags at half-mast for the next couple of days after she passed away.

Within the national scene and what I got to see was she had an unusual combination of being very, very principled and dedicated to what she wanted, a complete advocate for cancer care for older adults. Despite that, she was always able to approach people, even those she was having disagreements with, with grace and charm and treated them in a way that allowed her to advance her agenda without there being undue tension. Having been on both sides of that discussion with her, she was impressive in that.

On a personal note, I’m going to miss her dearly. She was important to me and the programmes and projects we were doing like the Center for Cancer and Aging, she was the director and allowed me to be the Associate Director. The newest grant we just got which was an infrastructure grant from the National Institute on Aging that we were working on and that I was sharing, we were all working together, Dr Mohile and I and Dr Hurria. So all of those things just summed up to she had done so much, every award that she had won and all the things she had done at the campus, the hardest thing is how much more we all knew she was going to do in the next couple of decades of time. I think it’s going to be up to the rest of us to move that agenda ahead with her animating vision and to take part of all the things we learned and to move it ahead.
So I’m looking forward to taking that image of what we need to do from City of Hope and even on to the national scene with my colleague, Dr Mohile, as we try to take the place in the small ways each of us can of what Dr Hurria was already doing.

SM: Thank you William. It’s been a shock to me about Dr Hurria’s passing last week and I think a shock to the whole community. I’m happy to be able to tribute her in this way on video to capture the feelings of the conference at SIOG, the Society of International Geriatric Oncology, for whom she was past President and cared about very deeply this organisation because of its passion and interest in fostering the improvement of care delivery and outcomes for older patients with cancer and their care-givers.

Personally, Arti was a very close friend of mine and I don’t think my career would be where it was if not for her. We were Fellows at the same time; she being a few years ahead of me had innovatively, as she has always been, jumped into the field of geriatric oncology on her own, realising that integrating geriatric principles into oncology was so important. Then there was a movement in the United States led by ASCO, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and the John Hartford Foundation to fund trainees in getting care of geriatrics training, so care for older patients, who would then go on to get oncology training and take care of older patients with cancer. Arti helped lead the group of us who were funded in these fellowships from across the country, unite us in this passion for taking care of older adults. We struggled quite a bit as a new field, this being now about fifteen years ago. Geriatric oncology was such a new field; we had wonderful senior mentors – Harvey Cohen, Hy Muss, Stu Lichtman – who have been very integral to SIOG and ASCO and other organisations but also helped to mentor Arti and loved her and helped all of us in this field.

Arti definitely was a role model for all of us in what she was doing, her projects and her mission, but also in the way she led with grace and with the lifting up of people who worked with her. She always put people in the right positions, she always advocated and sponsored people in geriatric oncology. I truly believe although more recent leadership, things that she’s been doing, leadership positions in ASCO and the Board of Directors and as Vice-Provost at City of Hope, was really geared towards helping her help mentees. The mission of mentoring was important to her and also to promote geriatric oncology at more of a national and a policy level. She was very driven in terms of her wish to do that and to really improve care.

She has really created a supportive community through the Cancer and Aging Research Group which she led out of the City of Hope and will continue under our leadership as the best we can. Arti was irreplaceable, she had enormous capacity to work and to bring people together and we will need our community to support the research and all of us independently in order to fill this massive void with her being gone now. As William said, what hurts is the loss of potential that she had, being at the prime of her life and really the ability to do more. But she has done so much more for the field than almost anybody else in just the time that she had here. So that has been really great. She has helped develop the Cancer and Aging Research Group; she developed The Journal of Geriatric Oncology which I now lead, and mentored both me and Siri Rostoft and the associate editors in our biggest journal for our field. Also she helped with the grant that William and I just received, the infrastructure grant from the NIA, National Institute on Aging, to help define infrastructure for cancer and aging.

In addition she’s helped so many people. We’re still hearing about people now who are reaching out to us, asking for guidance, who she worked with and supported and sponsored, It’s just so many people who are going to miss her. As William said, I will miss her thoroughly. She has been such a huge part of all of our lives, personally and professionally, and it’s really sad that she’s gone but we will honour her legacy by working as hard as we can in the core constructs that she believed in which is mentoring and geriatric oncology.