She was only 42 and she was married to a snowplow operator.
The years fall away and the details come into sharp focus as Dr. Gary Gilliland recalls meeting the patient who would shape the trajectory of his career.
She’d been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, then given chemotherapy, went into remission – and relapsed six months later. The follow-up treatment wiped out her leukemia but her bone marrow never came back and the severe fungal infections she developed were killing her.
Gilliland, a young intern at the time, was at her side when her family arrived to say goodbye. He watched her children climb into bed with her for the last time. About 20 minutes later, she died.
“We had all the best intentions, but she died of complications from the chemotherapy we gave her,” he said. “I just thought there has to be a better way. We have got to develop better treatments for people like her.”
Now, all these years later, after decades of research, cures for cancer are in sight -- particularly at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, he said.
On Jan. 2, Gilliland will become the new president and director of Fred Hutch where he’ll play a key role in helping those cures he once dreamed of become reality. The research center announced his new position today, following a national search.
“This is the perfect time and perfect place to develop curative approaches for cancer,” said Gilliland, a physician-scientist. “Everything I’ve done in my career has pointed here.”