Jane Weeks, Cancer Outcomes Pioneer and Devoted Mentor, Dies at 61 : Oncology Times

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Jane Weeks, Cancer Outcomes Pioneer and Devoted Mentor, Dies at 61

Rosenthal, Eric T.

doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000436586.57885.26
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Jane Carrie Weeks, MD, MSc, an internationally respected pioneer in outcomes research in oncology and beloved mentor to many in health services research, died September 10 of metastatic breast cancer. She was 61.

She was Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Professor of Health Policy and Management at Harvard School of Public Health, Director of the McGraw-Patterson Center for Population Sciences, Chief of the Division of Population Sciences in Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's Department of Medical Oncology, and Program Leader for Outcomes Research at Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center.

Described as a brilliant, analytical thinker, and a dedicated, caring physician, Weeks gave up clinical practice early in her career because she believed she could be successful in outcomes research only if she was focused 100 percent in the field, said Robert J. Mayer, MD, the Stephen B. Kay Family Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School; Vice Chair for Academic Affairs, Medical Oncology at Dana-Farber; and Faculty Associate Dean of Admissions at Harvard Medical School.

“She was sensitive as a doctor and sensitive to patients, but as her career developed she no longer personally took care of patients, although her work influenced so many others who did,” he said via telephone.

Mayer recalled that he first met her in the late-1980s when she was Co-chief Medicine Resident at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and she later trained under him as a medical oncology fellow at Dana-Farber.

Decision Analysis

“Jane began a whole new innovative groundbreaking approach to patient care through decision analysis, bringing science and statistics to something that had in the past been done through intuition or impressions. She made outcomes in oncology a rigorous academically respected discipline that has made that area comparable in impact to traditional laboratory-based investigation,” he said.

Her generosity as a mentor extended through the Harvard community beyond just Dana-Farber, Mayer said: “She would listen and provide wise counsel, and this June she received the 2012-13 William Silen Lifetime Achievement in Mentoring Award from Harvard Medical School.”

Weeks was also among the recipients of the American Society of Clinical Oncology's first Career Development Award (CDA) in 1992 and helped guide the future development of that program over the years. A number of those she mentored at Dana-Farber and who are currently on the faculty there also went on to receive CDAs over the years including Deborah Schrag, MD, MPH, and Gregory Abel, MD.


Abel said via email, “Jane was the consummate mentor, guiding a large cohort of oncology-focused health services researchers into establishing successful research programs. She was a true pioneer in this area, not only because of her own outstanding scholarship, but also because of her sincere commitment to educating the next generation.

“While I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the pleasure of thinking through many research questions with Jane, her love of rigorous intellectual inquiry is just one of many reasons she was a remarkable mentor. She was also very generous with her time—keeping an essentially open-door policy for her mentees—and gave excellent career advice.”

Schrag, who became a close colleague of Weeks, and succeeded her as Chief of the Division of Population Sciences in DFCI's Department of Medical Oncology, said during a telephone interview that Weeks had a knack and a nose for spotting the next new trend in important, provocative questions, and had an analytically razor-sharp intellect: “Jane could sit in a seminar and be the only one to ask ‘why do we do it that way?’ She helped her mentees crystalize their [often] amorphous ideas into high-impact projects and helped them stay on target and not get distracted. She just loved bringing out the best in people and could raise them to a new level.”

Schrag said that Weeks also had a knack for making research fun and had a wicked sense of humor.

Weeks also pioneered and helped bring rigorous analytical methods and standards to comparative effectiveness research, continued Schrag, who said that her mentor couldn't find a suitable mentor herself in outcomes research and had to look outside of oncology to cardiologist Lee Goldman, MD, now Dean of Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons.

Founded Dana-Farber's Center for Outcomes and Policy Research

In 1995, Weeks founded Dana-Farber's Center for Outcomes and Policy Research, which focused on the benefits, risks, and results of cancer treatment, including patients' experiences and preferences.

Other research areas of interest included racial disparities in health care, cancer prevention and treatment, cost-effectiveness of health services, and patient preferences about end-of-life care. She also led the Cancer Care Outcomes Research and Surveillance Consortium (CanCORS), a six-year, NCI-funded study that looked at the experiences of 10,000 patients across the United States throughout their treatment and sought to answer why the elderly, minorities, and other groups sometimes received lower-quality care or had inferior outcomes.

Mayer recalled that when Weeks was a medical student she rotated at Beth Israel Hospital, where she met her future husband, Barrett J. Rollins, MD, PhD, who was then a medical resident and today is Linde Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Chief Scientific Officer and Faculty Dean for Oncology at Dana-Farber.

“Jane never drove a car and later when she was a resident at Brigham and Women's and Barrett was a fellow at Dana-Farber, Barrett would be rushing out to pick her up and take her from one medical facility to another,” Mayer said.

Rollins said during a phone conversation that after meeting Weeks, whom he found “so smart and impressive,” he waited until she was no longer on his rotation to ask her out, which resulted in a 30-year relationship together.

“She was incredibly analytical, demanding, and logical, and when she was chief resident, others said that she would ‘eat nails for breakfast,’ but it was with love,” he said, noting his wife's remarkable devotion to her trainees.

A basic scientist, Rollins said that Weeks had raised his consciousness and helped him to see early on what was important about outcomes research. She made him a real convert, he said, and even recruited him as principal investigator on a large master clinical data protocol at Dana-Farber; in turn, he would try to convince her of the value of molecular-based therapies if she could see real evidence and outcomes.

Weeks also reigned as queen of a lunchtime table in Dana-Farber's cafeteria for one hour every day for years, he said, noting the strict protocol involved in the civilized event that drew researchers from all disciplines, with his wife always demanding others show her the proof of better outcomes: “Jane's rule was that we could not talk about work for at least half an hour, with the first 10 minutes dedicated to gossip, and then followed by general conversation.” He said that participants could not discuss their own work during the remaining time, and the effort led to several multidisciplinary projects.

Majored in Philosophy at Radcliffe

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan Weeks majored in philosophy at Radcliffe before moving to Washington D.C. to work at the Urban Institute on Medicaid and other policy issues.

Rollins said that she originally wanted to go to law school and was accepted at Harvard Law before seeing the film “The Paper Chase,” which prompted her to defer her decision before withdrawing and returning to Boston for additional premed courses.

She received her medical degree from Harvard Medical School and a master's degree in health policy and management from Harvard School of Public Health, completing her postgraduate training in internal medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a fellowship in medical oncology at Dana-Farber prior to joining the faculty in 1992.

He said that early on people didn't think highly of her work and viewed her as a “bomb thrower and not very constructive,” with one notable individual walking up to her lunch table and telling her he was sick and tired of her negativity.

Weeks' legacy as a mentor will live on through the Jane C. Weeks, MD, MSc, Junior Population Science and Clinical Investigator Endowment Fund (http://www.dana-farber.org/janeweeks) established through a bequest from her estate.

In addition to her husband, her survivors include her mother, a brother and sister, and four nephews.

Memorial services are scheduled for October 23 at the Harvard Memorial Church.

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