Aug 14, 2020
Judith and Alan Kaur know more than most of us about the science of long-lasting love. And they use their unique experiences in the cancer community to advance research.
In this episode of Your Stories, the Kaurs reveal their non-traditional approach to marriage and medicine.
Judith, the first doctor to receive a Conquer Cancer grant more than 35 year ago and Alan, who encouraged his wife to go to med school in the 1970s after they’d started their family, teach us that relationships aren’t unlike clinical trials: If the participants are willing to do the work – to closely study their subjects, accept new information, and course correct when prompted by the heart and the mind - the discoveries can change lives.
Judith and Alan Kauer know more than most about the science of long-lasting love, and each use their unique experiences in the cancer community to advance research. In this episode of Your Stories, the Kauers reveal their non-traditional approach to marriage and medicine.
Judith, the first doctor to receive a Conquer Cancer grant more than 35 years ago, and Alan, who encouraged his wife to go to med school in the 1970s after they'd started their family, teach us that relationships aren't unlike clinical trials. If researchers are willing to do the work, to closely study their subjects, accept new information, and course correct when prompted by the heart and the mind, the discoveries can change lives.
You and I have never had a straightforward 52 years together. I met you when I was still a teenager and I was in college. And we got married after I finished graduate school. You were working as an actuary in downtown Chicago, and we thought, OK, I'm a teacher. You're an actuary. That's our life.
But we changed along the way. I supported you in going into that other profession, even though it meant that we were separated for a period of time. You had to go to New York for training. I was teaching school. And so that was the first time that we were sort of a non-traditional pair.
And then everything went along for a couple of years, and we had our daughter, and then I was a stay-at-home mom. And you were very supportive of my thinking about going back to school. But at the time, I had no money. Nobody in my family was a doctor. But you sort of challenged me to think about doing that. Do you remember a little bit about that time?
I was going into work every day, naturally. And when I came home, she always had a scientific book in front of her that she was reading. It was just going on all the time. And one night, I still remember, we sat down in the kitchen and we each had our food in front of us. And I just looked at her, and I said, do you want to be a doctor? And she said yes. And so that settled the discussion. I remember that clear as a bell.
And I said, then fine. If you want to be a medical doctor, why don't you take tomorrow off, drive down to Northwestern University, where you got your master's degree, and talk to the counselors down there and find out what it would take for you to get into medical school.
Back then, you know, in 1975, when I went to Northwestern, they said I was too old to go to medical school, that women, number one, were not being accepted, and many were told women aren't accepted. Number two, it was better if you go straight from college into medical school.
So over the years, seeing today that it's all different-- actually, probably slightly more women go to medical school than men, and many people do make career changes and pick oncology as an exciting field that has not only patient care, but research and education.
She kept applying, and finally she did get accepted into medical school at the University of North Dakota. And then I took care of our daughter, Christa. You finally got out of your training. At the age of 38, you took on your first real job in medicine.
That's right, after I finished my fellowship. And at the end of my fellowship, I was the first selected Young Investigator Award for ASCO, which led to the Conquer Cancer Foundation efforts to try to support a lot of young and aspiring researchers. They had a small reception for me, and people came up and congratulated me. And among them was an oncologist.
As she was shaking my hand and telling me a little bit about herself, I noticed that she had an unusual mole on her forehead. And I said, you know, I apologize, but that mole looks abnormal to me. Have you shown it to anybody? And she said, oh, I've shown a couple of doctors, and they said, oh, don't worry about that. It's probably been there forever. It's fine.
And I said, you know, I don't think it's fine. I think you should go have it looked at. It actually was melanoma. And so I diagnosed her the day that I got the Young Investigator Award, and I saw her 35 years later. Over the years, you also participated in research and clinical trials. Do you remember the prostate prevention trial that you participated in?
Yes. I went into a prostate prevention trial around the year 2000. And it was the biggest cancer inquiry trial in the United States at that time. And then about three years, I guess, the company sent me out a note saying bring all my medicines in immediately, that all the trials were being ceased.
That's one of the key things about clinical trials and research. We don't just assume that we have the right idea and that every trial is going to work. And built into it is all the safety features so that patients are informed upfront of what we know. And then as things develop, then they inform patients.
And some trials do have to be discontinued. And not every new treatment makes it to market, which is one thing that really is so difficult in this country, is trying to find the drugs that are really going to make the difference and get them to market. And it sometimes takes years because we put patient safety first in our clinical trials.
You actually were responsible for some of your friends even being diagnosed with prostate cancer who went to see if they were eligible for the trial, didn't know that they had prostate cancer, and they were actually diagnosed because of trying to get into the trial. I think that was incredible. And that was a service that you did in talking to other men about the importance of prostate cancer.
My best friend Art, Art tried to get into the trial program that I was in, and they found out he had cancer when he was being examined. And so he could not get into the trial.
That was an incredible kind of serendipity because if it weren't for some of the research that's been done on prostate cancer in the years since then, your best friend, the best man of our wedding, might not be here today. He's got three grandchildren that he never would have seen. We continue to see them when they come down to Florida part of the winter. But all of that would have been lost if it hadn't been for that particular incentive to go and be part of a research project.
It's interesting to see, after 52 years of marriage, the things that we've had together and the times that we've had to change paths. I've been a stay-at-home mom. I've been a schoolteacher. I've been at our own clinic and academic center. So I've seen kind of the full range of oncology care.
And I even got a chance to see you once in a while when you were working all these years. You put in a lot of hours, a lot of work.
I stop in to say hi once in a while, and thank you for all that you've done to make that possible.
Dr. Kauer specializes in breast and cervical cancer and palliative care. She's dedicated her career to preventing and treating cancer in Native Americans. She and Alan donate to Conquer Cancer to ensure the next generation of scientists have the funding they need to explore cancer research. Learn more about the research the Kauers support at conquer.org.
Hearing the experiences of others can help people cope with the challenges cancer brings help others find these inspiring stories by leaving a review of the podcast, and subscribe today on iTunes or Google Play to hear every new episode. Thanks for listening to Your Stories: Conquering Cancer.
The purpose of this podcast is to educate and to inform. This is not a substitute for professional medical care and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of individual conditions. Guests on this podcast express their own opinions, experience, and conclusions. The mention of any product, service, organization, activity, or therapy should not be construed as an ASCO endorsement.