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A Medical Journey


By Howard Freedlander

Col’67 and PAR’02

I began an unplanned medical journey more than three months ago. Consequently, I joined a men’s club, to which I had no intention of applying.

On April 30, I received a diagnosis of prostate cancer. By June 16, I underwent robotic-assisted surgery to remove my prostate. I am recovering well and quickly, with no surprises or complications.

On June 24, I learned from my Johns Hopkins Hospital doctor that the surgery successfully extracted all the cancer. I am cancer-free.

I thought long and hard about whether to share this information on a public stage like Frankly Penn. I’m doing so because fortunately I suffered a form of cancer more common than I ever knew among men—and considered mostly curable.

My description so far betrays none of the fear and anxiety I felt—and obsessed about on a daily basis—beginning with the brief phone conversation with an Annapolis urologist, who told me the awful truth. The difficulty continued as I told family members and close friends. Even as I sat two months ago early in the hectic pre-operation area, I worried about life after major surgery.

Cancer no longer was someone else’s problem.

As if studying for final exams 48 years ago at Penn, I read exhaustively about prostate cancer. I spoke with survivors, not only in Talbot County, Maryland, where I live, but throughout the country. I realized the membership of this club was larger than I ever imagined. While comforted to some extent by the survival rate, at least measured anecdotally, I could think of nothing else.

Peace of mind was elusive.

I learned that fighting cancer—or any other life-threatening disease—generates a level of self-absorption and self-centerness that I typically abhor. I talked of little else. I felt distracted, prone to mistakes. The metaphor, “emotional roller coaster,” comes to mind.

And I found out, as do others, I’m sure, the grace and comfort willingly offered by family and friends.

Despite the option of radiation, I chose surgery because it suited me personally; I simply wanted to rid myself of cancer as quickly and effectively as I could. Through a referral from a doctor in my hometown of Easton, MD, I found a physician at the renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital, well-experienced and well-respected in conducting robotic-assisted surgery. He not only was highly skilled, but just as importantly, a person with a nice human touch and incredible responsiveness to my questions and concerns.

I alluded to the inestimable value of support, both professional and friend-and family-based. You expect the medical professionals to respond with expertise and compassion, and that generally happened. You lean on your family, and again I was the beneficiary of tremendous care and concern. My wife Liz was a great nurse and wonderful friend.

Everyone deals differently with personal calamity. I like to do personal research, using both the written and spoken word. And so I spoke with people to whom friends referred me, people whom I did not know, such as an attorney in Chicago and a real estate developer in Washington, DC; they unselfishly spent time explaining their experience with prostate cancer. I spoke with a Penn classmate, whose name I saw as a donor to the Brady Urological Institute at Hopkins. Also, I constantly sought counsel and comfort from an Easton friend who had undergone prostate surgery in 1999 at Hopkins.

So, what have I have done since my wrenching medical odyssey ended?

I have found other subjects of conversation that exclude personal medical problems. I will continue retirement activities that have no connection to the medical system. Life as a patient is grueling.

I have reached out to others, including a friend in Washington State, trying to help him navigate treatment options for prostate cancer. He seems disinclined to take the surgery route.

And, finally, I will remain ever thankful for a dose of good luck, renewal of good health and the ability to continue praying for those who endure life-threatening medical situations far more complex than early-detected prostate cancer.

Life looks brighter now. It’s time to move on. It’s time to laugh again.

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Penn Club of DC at the Citi Open

Tennis Shot

Another summer in DC and another great Citi Open tennis tournament is just around the corner.  This year’s field is the best in years with many of tennis’ top-ranked players coming to town.  And thanks to the Penn Club of DC, Penn alumni have enjoyed a “Penn Night” at the tournament each and every summer for over 20 years.  Why do I like to take part in this event?  Simply put, the Citi Open experience is a tennis Wonderland.  When not in your seat watching tennis with Penn friends, you can walk around the festival grounds to visit the sponsor tents, spot the tennis stars (and perhaps get their autographs), check out tennis merchandise, enter free raffles, and take advantage of numerous food and drink options (including access to the air-conditioned Courtside Club – only with the Penn Club ticket).  Holding true to the Tennis Center founders’ wishes, a portion of the proceeds from the Citi Open benefits the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation (WTEF). The WTEF seeks to improve the life prospects for underprivileged children of Washington, DC.  Through its education and athletic programs, tens of thousands of DC’s at-risk children have been nurtured through the support of WTEF’s caring patrons, staff and volunteers.  I look forward to this year’s gathering of Penn alum and friends at the Citi Open on Friday evening, August 7th.  For more information and our group rate tickets, see

For more information, Click here.

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Penn Sages at the Art Institute of Chicago

By Lori Seegers C’77

The May 21st Penn Sages event was a success, enjoyed by the 15+ Penn alumni and friends, for an exclusive tour of the Art Institute of Chicago’s latest exhibition: Ireland Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690-1840 by the exhibit’s curator, Christopher Monkhouse, C ’69.  Christopher’s enthusiasm, depth of knowledge and wit kept the group fully engaged for nearly 2 hours.  Christopher regaled us with stories of obtaining the objets d’art and their provenances, including a Greek statue rescued from a British fountain. Lori “Goodman” Seegers, C ’77, arranged the event with Christopher and a meeting place for dinner that evening.  A large group proceeded to have dinner together at Seven Lions across from the Art Institute, where Christopher continued the conversation. A good evening was had by all. We’re so glad that some of you were able to join us!

sages1 sages2 sages3 sages4

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Chicago Sages Discover Louis Kahn in the Film “My Architect”

One day during my Art 140 Seminar (we’d attend these fantastic lectures and then we’d all meet in seminars with intent graduate instructors), Louis Kahn strode through the door of the classroom on the way to his office. Our instructor rose as he entered and we all followed, as if Michelangelo had just appeared. For up-and-coming architects that’s who he was. But I only discovered last night that there are no Kahn buildings on the Penn campus or, for that matter, in the city of Philadelphia, thanks to a city politician named Ed Bacon.

Chicago Penn Sages had a rare opportunity to join with faculty of the Art Institute to view Nathaniel Kahn’s film,” My Architect,” of his journey to discover his father. It was a fascinating film but even more fascinating was Nathaniel’s discussion about his memories of his father, who came to visit him periodically (Kahn was still married when Nathaniel’s mother became pregnant).

KahnBefore viewing the film, the Sages mixed with alumni of Penn Design and faculty of the Art Institute, enjoying hors d’oeuvres, wine and good conversation under the magnificent dome at the entrance of the Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater.

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Alumni Weekend Children’s Book Collection

Quakers Come Together to Promote Literacy!
BOB_1This Alumni Weekend the Netter Center for Community Partnerships is collecting gently used and new children’s books for Bags of Books, a service organization that donates bags full of books to students to take home and keep. All books will be donated to West Philadelphia students served by Penn’s Netter Center.

There are two EASY ways to donate:

  1. BRING BOOKS FROM HOME: When you pack your bags for Alumni Weekend, don’t forget to bring along some gently used or new children’s books to donate to Penn’s Bags of Books collection. We will be accepting children’s books for all ages – infants through high school students. Clean out your closets and make a difference!

Collection bins will be located at:

  • E. Craig Sweeten Alumni House, 3533 Locust Walk (Friday, May 15 – Saturday, May 16 from 9 AM – 5 PM, Sunday, May 17 from 9 AM – 3 PM)
  • Netter Center for Community Partnerships, 111 South 38th Street, Second Floor, Class of 1965 Conference Room (Friday, May 15: 1:30 – 3:00 PM) as part of the Class of 1965 & Netter Center Community Service Project
  • Basketball Skills & Drills Clinic, David Pottruck Health and Fitness Center, 3701 Walnut Street (Saturday, May 16 from 9 – 11AM)
  1. BUY BOOKS AT THE BOOKSTORE: When you are shopping at the Penn Bookstore (3601 Walnut Street), we will have books for sale at the front desk. You can add one or two to your purchase when you check out! For a few dollars you can make a difference in a child’s life!

For more information contact Lisa Nass Grabelle, C’93, L’96 at

NetterCenter-Penn-Shield-Site (PRIMARY JPG LOGO WITH WEBSITE)


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How Penn is Taking the Next Step to ‘Treating Untreatable Cancer’

By Michal Clements W’84

As part of Penn’s Year of Health, Chicago area Penn alumni gathered on February 18, 2015 for a captivating presentation by Dr. Bruce Levine, C’84, my Penn undergraduate classmate, and the Barbara and Edward Netter Professor in Cancer Gene Therapy at the Perelman School of Medicine.


The engaging topic was “Designing and Building Targeted Immunity from Patient’s Own Cells: Treating Untreatable Cancers.” The meeting was sponsored by the Perelman School of Medicine and the Penn Club of Chicago.

Nine highlights of the lively presentation were:

1. Penn was granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation for Gene Immunotherapy by the FDA (similar to the TSA Pre Check line for FDA approval). (

2. As of 2014, the Penn team (Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania) treated over 150 patients with CLL, ALL, Lymphoma, and myeloma with their own engineered T cells designed to kill their cancer. To qualify, all patients must have relapsed following two other treatments.   The overall complete response rate for the ALL subgroup is 90%; Moreover, 70% of this group have failed stem cell transplant prior to receiving their investigational T cell therapy.


3. Penn’s program and research is expanding to treat a broad range of cancers, beyond CLL, ALL and Lymphoma, including breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, mesothelioma, glioblastoma and others. More information is available here: and at

4. Penn’s medical campus footprint has increased seven to ten fold since the early 1980’s when Dr. Levine and I were undergraduates. The new Center for Advanced Cellular Therapeutics center will open in 2016.

5. This treatment is for patients who have not succeeded with other courses of treatment. Cell and Regenerative Medicine may become the next pillar of cancer therapy (after surgery, chemotherapy, radiation). It’s possible that this will relegate stem cell transplants to history.

6. The clinical trial patients are “like astronauts” because they are take the step into the unknown. Pediatric patient, Emily Whitehead, serves as one example. Emily’s treatment been profiled in the short documentary by Ross Kauffman “Fire with Fire” and in the upcoming PBS Ken Burns’ special “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies”, episode 6. The PBS special will air on PBS on March 30th- April 1st.

Cancer Free

7. In August 2012, Penn Medicine entered into a partnership with Novartis to tap into their global research and regulatory expertise. In December 2012, Novartis bought a manufacturing facility. Penn’s program is differentiated from other Gene Immunotherapy programs through this operational capability and expertise (along with the Penn team). At present, manufacturing the CAR T Cells is a very manual process, since each lot is unique- made from the patient’s own cells. Work continues to CAR T Cell make the process more automated.

8. It took approximately 30 years for stem cell transplants to reach the 1 million mark,, a target is that CAR T Cell might accomplish this in half that time.

9. Philanthropy from the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy and others funded the initial research. Interested Penn alumni can contribute directly at


Dr. Levine provided ample bonus material, including recommendations for more the upcoming PBS special, and the Fire with Fire VIMEO. On behalf of the Penn Club of Chicago, I want to thank Dr. Levine again and also the Perelman School of Medicine for co-sponsoring the event. Seeing this progress made renewed my sense of pride in Penn!


More info on designation is here:

Putting it in perspective, this is the first for an academic institution, the FDA has previously granted Breakthrough Therapy to only four other biologic agents and this is the first personalized cell therapy for cancer to obtain it.  From October 2013 through June 30, 2014 the FDA received 20 applications and only 3 were approved, the previous year, 10 of 11 applications were not approved.

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Get Involved with your Reunion

By: Nicole Oddo

Happy 2015! I’m excited to be celebrating my 10th Reunion this May 15th – 17th.

But I decided that I want to do more than celebrate – I want to help make our 10th Reunion memorable.  I decided to get involved and I’m inviting my classmates and fellow alumni to think about it too.

Our lives are busy – work, family, friends, weddings, and other commitments will quickly fill our 2015 calendar but I always want to carve out time to reconnect with Penn, see great lifelong friends, and meet more of our amazing classmates.  I helped on the 5th Reunion and met a whole group of new classmates.  I made wonderful friends at Penn and continue to meet interesting, engaging people through Penn.  I’m meeting new people with amazing creativity and interesting lives already as we gear up for May.

One of my favorite quotes is from author Mark Twain:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Or the other day, I saw something particularly funny and relevant on Pinterest although I don’t know where it originated.

“No one looks back on their life and remembers the nights they had plenty of sleep.”


We all have limited time but can always use more fun, rewarding opportunities.  Please consider how you can contribute to your class.  There are so many ways to help – from writing emails to planning event logistics to helping host alumni in your city.

Want to get involved?  Email me.

Nicole Oddo,C’05
Reunion Committee Co-Chair

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