Dr. Nancy Davidson is the president and executive director of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. She will serve as a bridge builder across treatment, clinical and translational cancer research at SCCA and its partner organizations, Fred Hutch, UW Medicine, and Seattle Children’s. Her life’s work has centered on advancing research, treatment and better outcomes for cancer patients. Davidson, a world-renowned physician-scientist in cancer biology and treatment, stepped into her new SCCA role December 1.
At SCCA, Davidson will be responsible for directing and managing the organization’s affairs, including planning, organizing and coordinating cancer care, clinical research and education. Davidson will also care for patients with breast cancer as part of the breast cancer team at SCCA. We met with Dr. Davidson to learn more about her goals at SCCA, her continued work to end cancer, and a little about her personal life.
Q: In addition to your leadership role at SCCA, you will be working as a member of SCCA’s breast cancer specialty team. Tell us about that.
A: I am really looking forward to joining the breast cancer team here at SCCA. I was a founding member of the Breast Cancer Program at Johns Hopkins and got a lot of pleasure with out of working with the team.
As Cancer Center Director at the University of Pittsburgh, we established a breast cancer research group, where I was at the table for lab meetings and participated in clinical trials, working with them as they pushed forward the envelope forward in that field. I hope to do the same thing here.
A very strong breast cancer team is already in place at SCCA with people like Dr. Julie Gralow, Dr. Ben Anderson, Dr. David Byrd, Dr. Jennifer Specht, Dr. Hannah Linden, and so many more as well as amazing scientists like Mary Claire King and Dr. Peggy Porter. There are a tremendous number of people on this team, including younger faculty members, and I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and being able to join the team.
I did make the decision not to open my own laboratory when I moved here to Seattle because I think that the responsibilities that I’ve taken on are very large in terms of their scope. I felt that I just didn’t have the wherewithal to move and set up another laboratory in this very strong place, and that it would be more prudent to partner with others.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing breast cancer patients today?
A: Any diagnosis of cancer is a challenge. From my perspective, the first challenge breast cancer patients face is to understand that even though it’s a very distressing diagnosis, it is not an emergency because there is ample opportunity to make informed decisions about the best way to proceed.
Patients have so much to learn. I’ve spent decades of my life learning about breast cancer, and we’re asking someone with a brand new breast cancer diagnosis to absorb this knowledge as it’s relevant to him or her in a very short period of time.
Q: What do you want to share with someone who is newly diagnosed with breast cancer?
A: I would reassure them and tell them that we have a lot of treatments that are available and many patients with breast cancer do extremely well. I’m a proponent of the importance of enrolling in clinical trials, if it is appropriate, because everything we know today about how to take care of people with breast cancer is because doctors and patients and researchers in the past have embarked on clinical trials. And we’re not perfect yet, so everything we’re going to learn for the future is going to be because of the trials from today.
Q: Who are some of the people that have impacted your work the most?
A: For physicians, patients also are mentors. They don’t really know it and it may not be apparent to patients but I think that all medical careers are shaped in part by experiences that we have with our patients and all the things that they teach us.
Q: What’s your leadership style?
A: I’d like to think that I’m a very inclusive person. I’m really interested in the power of the team, in care, and in science. Everything we do is wrapped around the power of the team. Everybody is going to have a role as a part of that team.
Specifically, in medicine and biomedical research, we can’t do it alone: we need everyone around the table.
So in the context of SCCA that means that every single person in that building, and that means everyone, has a vital role— from the doctors to the nurses to the receptionists to the phlebotomists to administrators to the parking attendants.
Q: What is your greatest hope for cancer care?
A: I’d like to think I would retire because there’s nothing left for me to do! That’s probably a little ambitious, and it may not happen during the course of my career, but I think that our job is to try and put ourselves out of business.
Q: What about your personal life?
A: I am the wife of a cancer prevention scientist and I am the mother of two 20-somethings, so for a long time my husband and I were very busy with their care but now they’re on their own and they are a lot of fun. Today we travel a lot as a family.
Q: What about hobbies? What do you like to do for fun?
A: I have been a professional sports fan for a long time. I started in Baltimore and we were both initial season ticket holders for the Baltimore Orioles when they built their new stadium and also for the Baltimore Ravens when they built their new stadium – I’m still a Ravens charter season ticket holder in Baltimore. In Pittsburgh I became a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins. They won the Stanley Cup this year. Terrific, wonderful season for us. And of course, I became a fan of the Steelers.
Now, I’m making the change to the NFC with the Seahawks , a challenge, but I think I’m going to be able to do it.
I’m a big reader. I’ve been active in a number of professional and civic organizations in Pittsburgh with a focus on education, science and women’s issues. I served on the board for the Phipps Conservatory, the premier botanical garden there. I worked with several organizations that are focused on supporting young scientists, a big passion of mine.