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Honoring the Legacy of an Inspirational Leader: Blake Cady, MD

Blake Cady, MD Remembering a Visionary: Blake Cady, MD

The Society of Surgical Oncology (SSO) lost a leader, mentor, and friend, and the world lost a giant in the field of surgical oncology last month with the passing of Blake Cady, MD.

Current SSO President, Kelly K. Hunt, MD, FSSO, commented on Dr. Cady’s legacy, “Blake Cady was a leader in surgical oncology, an inspiring mentor to many and a prolific author. His publications contributed significantly to the field of oncology. He was also a visionary who understood the importance of tumor biology long before it was incorporated into surgical and systemic therapy treatment algorithms. On behalf of the Society of Surgical Oncology, I extend our deepest condolences to Dr. Cady’s family and friends.”

Dr. Cady led a full and inspirational life of service. He was President of the Society of Surgical Oncology in 1989 and a mentor to countless residents. He impacted the field through over 300 publications, book chapters and other peer reviewed articles. He is probably best known for the quote, “Biology is King, selection of cases is Queen, and the technical details of surgical procedures are princes and princesses of the realm who frequently try to overthrow the powerful forces of the King and Queen, usually to no long-term avail, although with some temporary apparent victories.” This novel idea of hierarchical thinking about the biology of the disease first, then about the operation and how the discipline of surgery can alter the trajectory of disease is a large part of his impressive legacy. While he wrote this statement decades ago, you can still find it quoted in articles and social media posts. It stands as a testament to the importance of the ideas it reflected and the influence that Dr. Cady still has today.

Dr. Cady was also an innovator who was ahead of his time with theories on the treatment of several types of cancer. Although he came up at a time when the prevailing wisdom around the treatment of breast cancer was “the bigger the surgery, the better,” Dr. Cady advocated for conservative surgery for breast cancer when the biology of the disease indicated that was the best course of action. At the Lahey Clinic, he studied thyroid cancer cases and determined that de-escalation of treatment of the disease was appropriate. Today many patients are under observation alone. Through example he encouraged thinking through the biology of the problem.

Dr. Cady guided many young surgeons through their early days in surgical oncology and often was there as a mentor and friend throughout their careers. Through early personal experience, Dr. Cady understood the impact of mentorship. In his 1989 SSO Presidential Address, Dr. Cady talked about the influence of two high school teachers and how they pushed him to overcome obstacles which led to his acceptance at Amherst College. Perhaps this foundational experience led Dr. Cady to become a mentor to many during his lifetime and allowed him to influence how a generation of surgical oncologists learned to practice the treatment of cancer. Former SSO President, Daniel G. Coit, MD, was a resident under Dr. Cady. Their mentor/mentee relationship went beyond the surgical theater, and the two developed a lifelong friendship. They shared a passion for sailing, and on trips together would often stay up late into the night debating everything from cancer treatments to more general debates about life. While talking about Dr. Cady’s significance in his life, Dr. Coit said, “He was a big part of who I am and basically how I think. He was an intuitive surgical oncologist and surgical biologist. He understood the diseases with an intuition that very few had at the time.”

In addition to the treatment of cancer, Dr. Cady was passionate about prevention. He advocated for maintaining screening for breast cancer at a time when it was being questioned because he believed strongly it was saving lives. Dr. Cady was also involved in smoking sensation programs for which he won the Annual Division Award and the National Distinguished Service Award from the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Cady held the prestigious position of president in several other organizations including: the American Association of Endocrine Surgery, the Boston Surgical Society, the New England Surgical Society, the New England Cancer Society (NECS) and the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Cancer Society.

In his 1989 SSO Presidential Address, “The Society of Surgical Oncology at a Crossroads: Thoughts for the Future,” Dr. Cady shared many prescient thoughts about the path he advocated that the Society should follow in the future. The speech contained specific ideas, many of which were put into practice. It included this quote which encouraged regular evaluation of cancer treatment standards due to the quickly changing field, “As the premier surgical organization dealing with cancer, we need to seize this leadership role by forming task forces to develop standards of performance in the common cancers. The fact that controversy surrounds many aspects of care in these cancers should not dissuade us from defining more than just minimal standards but contemporary comprehensive standards of performance for the surgical community. Such standards must recognize the danger of fixing in stone aspects of care in rapidly evolving clinical fields.”

Dr. Cady’s loss is profound, but SSO is grateful for the lessons he taught. His example continues to impact surgical oncology and lead SSO forward.

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