Originally published in the 2011 ASCO Daily News

The ASCO Humanitarian Award honors an oncologist who personifies ASCO’s mission and values by going above and beyond the call of duty in providing outstanding patient care through innovative means or exceptional service and leadership in voluntary, uncompensated endeavors in the United States or abroad.

This award is unique in that nominations were accepted from visitors to Cancer.Net, ASCO’s patient information website, as well as from ASCO members. The award was presented during yesterday’s Opening Session.

In both his professional capacities and his personal time, Mark G. Kris, MD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, has exhibited a level of dedication and compassion that has touched the lives of countless individuals. According to his colleagues at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Dr. Kris has been a pioneer in the advancement of lung cancer research and treatment. In addition to his contributions in developing new treatment approaches, he has demonstrated exemplary patient care, even making house calls when a visit to the hospital would be too taxing.

Dr. Kris has participated in two full marathons and half-marathons to benefit patients with cancer through Fred’s Team (which raises funds for cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center), as well as all seven “Run As One” races sponsored by The Thomas Labreque Foundation supporting lung cancer awareness and research.

“It’s very gratifying to give patients with lung cancer and their families a place where they can get together, both to celebrate their successes and to meet other families that are going through the illness,” Dr. Kris said in an interview with ASCO Daily News. “Seeing families rally around a member who is fighting the disease is a beautiful thing.”

He has also served on the medical advisory boards of two non-profit organizations: Uniting Against Lung Cancer and CancerCare. Through those organizations, he frequently participated in educational telephone conferences for patients with cancer.

Efforts Outside of Oncology

However, the effects of Dr. Kris’ work are not limited to cancer care. He has spent much of his free time assisting with humanitarian efforts in poverty- and disaster-stricken areas in the United States, as well as overseas. Since 2000 he has assisted Habitat for Humanity in New York City, building new homes and renovating older homes for individuals and families in need. In 2004 and 2005, he traveled to Siquirres, Costa Rica — a rural area with limited economic opportunities — to help youth there build a basketball court and a church.

After Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Kris traveled to New Orleans to help with relief efforts and made three trips to Biloxi, Mississippi, to rebuild damaged homes. He also made approximately six trips between 2006 and 2009 to Dulac, Louisiana, a town deep in the Louisiana bayou that had been devastated by Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2009, where many live below the poverty line. Dr. Kris helped the community rebuild homes there.

When Walton, New York was flooded in 2006, Dr. Kris helped clean water-damaged basements and raised funds to supply furnaces to homeowners. After the earthquake in Haiti, he traveled to the small town of Furcy, where he led efforts to rebuild a school, assisted in the construction of new buildings, worked in a health clinic, formed a scholarship to build additional schools, and acquired seeds for local residents to plant new crops.

“There’s a tremendous need for others to get involved,” Dr. Kris said of his disaster-relief work. “There is a need for all kinds of skills, from drivers to cooks to good listeners. Right after Hurricane Katrina, people had to tell their stories — you just had to find time to listen. All you need is a plane ticket and a set of ears.”

Service to Science

Dr. Kris, a medical oncologist, currently serves as Chief of the Thoracic Oncology Service and the William and Joy Ruane Chair in Thoracic Oncology at Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center, where he has been on the staff since 1983. He also is a Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. He specializes in thoracic malignancies including lung cancer, thymoma, and cancer of unknown primary site. His research interests include targeted therapies for lung cancer, multimodality therapy, the development of new anticancer drugs, and symptom management with a focus on preventing emesis, the most dreaded side effect of cancer and cancer treatment. He will be making a presentation in the Lung Cancer Oral Session at the 2011 ASCO Annual Meeting on behalf of the Lung Cancer Mutation Consortium that is trying to make personalized care a reality for all Americans with lung adenocarcinoma.

Dr. Kris received his medical degree from Cornell University Medical College, completed residencies at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center/Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center program, and performed his fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. An ASCO member since 1983, Dr. Kris has served on and led numerous committees. He received an ASCO Statesman Award in 2010 in recognition of his service to the Society.