March 24, 2006
Plaza Hotel, Rome
I would like to begin by thanking my friend, Mario Baccini and Foedus for the great honor they have just bestowed upon me. I am not sure I deserve it, but I certainly accept it with great joy and I promise to work hard to earn it. This is a moment of joy and I shall cherish it for the rest of my life. Tonight, I am accompanied by my wife, Wedad, who has been my only wife for the last 33 years, and one of my secret achievements is the fact that she has not yet run away. I owe her a great deal, and without her I would not have been here tonight. Also with me here is my eldest brother, Elie and an extended family of friends. My life friend, George Zakhem, and his wife Lisa, have come from London; Samia Shami has come from Beirut, Lebanon; Peter Indari has come all the way from Sidney, Australia, and Dr. Khalid Jabboury has come from Houston. Also, I am very glad to see that many of my great friends from Italy are also here tonight. I want to thank each and every one of them. Last, but not least, I wish to thank the "unknown soldiers", my great staff at the Salem Oncology Centre.
Tonight is the opportune time for me to admit in public my love story with Italy. I am not only in love with the beauty of the land, but more importantly, I am in love with the beauty and the creativity of its people. This is a country where you make real friends for life. This is a country where you make memories you cherish forever. This is a country that gives life meaning. I cannot tell you how proud I feel to have so many friends who are Italians. In addition to being the land of beauty and art, Italy has produced many great scientists, and it has been a privilege for me to know and befriend two of these scientists who are in cancer medicine and research: Drs. Gianni Bonadonna and Umberto Veronesi.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I dedicated the last 38 years of my life chasing a vicious enemy, cancer. Every single day has been a continuing flux between pain and joy, but as you surely know, pain always weighs more heavily than joy. In my daily war against this disease, I have frequently failed, but I have occasionally succeeded. Failure has taught me humility. It has also taught me perseverance, and that nothing can be achieved without the will to push forward and the will to advance. The greatest lesson is to never give up. Success has taught me that nothing is impossible; that the capabilities of the human mind are only limited by our own imagination; that curing one human with cancer is like curing all humanity. In my professional life, I have always believed that research is the key to the advancement of knowledge and science. Without it, knowledge and the sciences remain stagnant. Research is, in fact, the salvation of science. I must admit that I have been very privileged to have had the opportunity to conduct research. We should never forget that the ultimate objective of research is not only to expand knowledge, but more importantly to expand the human mind, which is the miracle of life. Many years from now, students of medical sciences will remember me as the man who first explored the relationship between infection and cancer. That cancer produces infection is common knowledge, but for infection to cause cancer had been considered a heresy until a few years ago. My research on infection as a cause of cancer began at the American University of Beirut 35 years ago and I continued this research at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and currently at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital. In the first few years of my research, I was astonished and thrilled at the same time to find how a chronic repeated infection in the small intestine eventually leads to a process of inflammation, which if left untreated, would deteriorate into frank malignancy and cancer. More significantly, I was thrilled to find that if the inflammation was treated with antibiotics before it becomes cancer, the whole process leading to cancer would be reversed. This research work, which has been recently recognized by the Nobel Prize Committee, was first acclaimed by the Italian Association of Pathologists in 1981 in a conference which was held in Lecce, South Italy. This was the first international recognition for my work.
In September 1991, when I left the MD Anderson Cancer Center and established the Salem Oncology Center in Houston, I made a new friendship with an American of Italian descent, Dr. Paolo Angelini. Paolo referred the first Italian patient to me and an additional bond was established with Italy. This time, the bond was not related to research, but was related to Italian men and women who were afflicted by cancer. Since then, I have treated more than 500 patients from this beautiful country. Some of these patients have been cured and a few of them are here tonight. Ladies and Gentlemen, I must admit that there is no pleasure or joy that supercedes curing a cancer patient. Giving in any form is, of course, beautiful, but I have learned that the highest level of giving is to give life. This is why I have always said that the relationship between the cancer doctor his patient is partially divine.
The next milestone in my love story with Italy is when President Scalfaro bestowed upon me the honor of Commendatore of the Order to the Merit of the Italian Republic (OMR). I received this honor at a ceremony held in Houston on the National Day of Italy, June 4, 1998. My beloved friend, Sebastiano Salvatore, then the Consul General of Italy in Houston, handed me the award. Since then, the bond has become much stronger and my Centre has established a major network of doctors and friends in Italy in an attempt to provide the Italian cancer patients with the very best possible medical care, and thus, the best chances for cure.
As we witness the emergence of the new era of globalization, I would like to emphasize that the need for globalization is most urgent and most important in medicine, as medicine transcends geographical, political, religious and ideological boundaries. Its target is universal; it is man, irrespective of who this man is and where he lives. I do not believe that there is a profession which is more selfless and more noble than that of healing and curing the sick. To me, it has been a great privilege to be a cancer doctor. One of the greatest challenges in the 21st Century is to make sure that medicine will never deteriorate to a job, because in essence medicine is a mission; a calling. Also, we should make sure that we will never look at the sick as a client, or a consumer, or a disease entity. The sick is a weak, but sacred human who should only be treated with dignity, love and knowledge. After 41 years of being a doctor, of which 38 years were devoted to cancer medicine and research, I have come to believe that all mankind is my family, that my church is my clinic and that my sincerest prayer is my work. I am closest to God when I am closest to my cancer patient.
May God bless you, bless the world and bless this beautiful country, Italy. Thank you.