As a child, whenever we were out to dinner and lamb was on the menu, my dad would look at me and say “I don’t eat sheep.” Later on, I found that the reason was because his childhood had been spent watching large flocks of sheep being herded through the streets of Chinook, Montana periodically for shearing, and the ensuing mess they left behind on the unpaved streets affected him throughout his life.
As the oldest of four boys, I grew up idolizing my father, the well-known physician who served as Dean of Admissions to the prestigious Johns Hopkins Medical School and served on the panel of the Food and Drug Administration; but his rural roots also fascinated me, some of which were hidden from our knowledge.
When my father was five years old, his father was gunned down on the streets of Chinook, a story that I still have no knowledge of. As children, we always envisioned a gunfight in the streets of the Old West, but in fact another woman was involved so it most probably was a domestic incident. His mother, Myrtle, had an eighth-grade education and was left to raise their three children on her own while living in a tiny two-bedroom house near the oil refinery in Chinook. She opened a beauty shop in town with her specialty being “beehive” hairdos of the 40s and 50’s.
My father held many jobs throughout middle school and high school, often working jackhammers at construction sites and doing other odd jobs to help support the family. He even installed a plate-glass window on the morning of his wedding! Following the funeral service at his church in Chinook, I learned from a local former teammate that he held the record for the longest touchdown pass (99 yards) in the history of the Chinook High School football team, “The Sugarbeeters.” Somehow he found time to play basketball and football in high school while working as many odd jobs as he could.
From this “atypical” environment, he emerged to gain a full scholarship to the University of Montana where he was at/near the top of his class and where he met my mother from the adjacent small rural town of Harlem. While in college, he was focused on pursuing a career that would somehow contribute to changing the world. He was highly interested in NASA’s space program which was beginning to develop at the time, but soon became enamored with medicine and was awarded a scholarship to Washington University Medical School in St. Louis in the east. Following graduation, Norman was accepted to The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore where he completed his internship and residency.
Growing up, my father was always close to his brother, Vern, whom none of us boys ever met. Vern apparently had a different lifestyle than my father and was known to be a womanizer. He ended up passing on at an early age, falling off a telephone pole while working as a lineman for the county. Rumor has it he was not wearing his safety belt at the time. The movie “A River Runs Through It” based on the book of the same name, eerily mirrors my father’s own life story. His name was “Norman” and he grew up fly-fishing in Montana. His brother, Vern, was reminiscent of the impulsive brother “Paul” played by Brad Pitt. Both Normans leave Montana and move to the east, becoming professors at major universities. This movie hit so close to home, that is was difficult for my father to watch.
My father was proud of his “old school” work schedule which reflected the views of the “old guard” in medicine. The newer internship schedules, with hours limitations currently in place would have been regarded as weakness. Subsequently, he received a Howard Hughes Fellowship and attended the University of Pennsylvania for three years of immunology and cancer research. This became his lifelong passion. As a college student, I worked in his laboratory doing menial tasks. Live animal research using rats was the main part of his laboratory work. Some of these rats were grown with different forms of lymphoma and then different treatments were initiated by my father and the response levels measured in the animals. My basic hands-on job was to put rat spleens in a blender and take them down to nuclear medicine to measure the radioisotope responses in the rat spleens from various treatments. As a college student, handling rats all day certainly steered me away from a career in laboratory research. However, on multiple occasions, I noticed that some of the rats that were injected with lymphoma exhibited dramatic responses to various treatments he administered, and I became convinced that my father was on the verge of finding the cure for cancer.
At the time I was doing lab research in my father’s lab, I was frequently sent to the lab next door to shave the dogs being used in live dog cardiac research. I found this lab interesting as an older gentleman named Vivien Thomas was training the surgeons on various surgical techniques on the anesthetized dogs. Mr. Thomas was not a doctor. My dad said he was a “special person here at Johns Hopkins.” I never understood this until watching the Emmy Award winning movie “Something the Lord Made” (based on the book, Partners of the Heart) about Vivien Thomas’ groundbreaking research on the Blaylock-Taussig Pediatric Surgical Technique that changed cardiac surgery in this country. It was only after watching this movie that I understood the true significance of what was actually going on in the laboratory next door. The following was an excerpt from Partners of the Heart:
“On April 16, 1976, Thomas received a letter from Steven Muller, the president of the Johns Hopkins University. This letter stated that the Board of Trustees had voted to award Thomas with an honorary degree at the one-hundredth commencement ceremony, which would be held on Friday, May 21, 1976. As news spread throughout the university, friends and strangers offered Thomas their congratulations. A few days before the ceremony, Thomas was discussing the degree with Dr. Norman Anderson, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Assistant Professor of Surgery. Jokingly, Thomas said to him, “Hopkins is really a tough place-it has taken me thirty-five years to get a degree out of them” (Thomas 1998, 229). Anderson replied, “Yes, but look what kind you are getting. That’s the deluxe model. That means you have already accomplished something. There are people around here with all kinds of degrees that never have and never will accomplish anything. You’ve already made a contribution” (Thomas 1998, 229). Thomas considered Anderson’s words to be “among the highest compliments [he] received” (Thomas 1998, 229).”
Besides being a Dean of Admissions to the medical school and a cancer researcher, my father also ran the Adult Consultation Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, often seeing prominent patients from around the world. Two that come to mind were a previous American Vice-President and a Saudi Arabian Prince. In addition, my father also served on the panel of the Food and Drug Administration and was committed to this task. However, in the process of seeing patients, he soon discovered that many of them who had breast implants were sick with autoimmune diseases, and he became convinced that leaking silicone breast implants might be the problem. Subsequently, he reported this to the FDA and became a frequent guest on nationally syndicated talk shows and news stations discussing the subject. I would be walking in my kitchen, the news would be on, and there would be my father speaking on breast implant problems on the national news. This became a rather frequent occurrence. He was a guest on Nightline as well as on The Jenny Jones Show where he engaged a Beverly Hills Plastic surgeon over the benefits versus risks of silicone breast implants. A Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon in his perfect Armani suit and makeup – my father, with his big bushy eyebrows and academic professor look and this represented a stark contrast in style.
His practice became swamped with women from all over the country who were suffering with ailments that may have been caused by leaking breast implants. As a practicing radiologist and son of Dr. Anderson, I suddenly started receiving many calls from patients who assumed that I was also treating breast implant issues. The hospital switchboard at one point refused to take the calls for me anymore. I could not, either, as my job was to read MRIs, x-rays, ultrasounds and CT scans and did not see patients clinically.
My father continued on this breast implant research for the remainder of his life.
This made a lasting impression on me during my career. However, when my own father and brother succumbed to cancer at relatively young ages, I began to develop a different philosophy and wondered if there was another way. I became convinced through my own research that fighting cancer was going to focus on total body inflammation and glutathione which is a powerful antioxidant found naturally in the body. I have spent the last 15 years actively working to increase my own body glutathione activity and reduce my own body inflammation levels and so far it has appeared to have worked for me. This may reflect the “new guard” of cancer research.