VCS Salutes Oncology Icon Withrow

The Veterinary Cancer Society’s 2010 Theilen Tribute Award honored Steve Withrow, DVM, of Colorado State University for lifetime achievement in veterinary oncology


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Dr. Steve Winthrow, right, was the keynote speaker at the Veterinary Cancer Society meeting in San Diego and winner of the 2010 Theilen Tribute Award. With Dr. Winthrow are, from left, Oregon State University oncology professor Stuart Helfand, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM; Barbara McGehee, retiring executive director of the Veterinary Cancer Society; and Dr. Alice Villalobos, organizer of the Theilen Tibute Award.

The Veterinary Cancer Society’s 2010 Theilen Tribute Award honored Steve Withrow, DVM, of Colorado State University for lifetime achievement in veterinary oncology.

The award recognizes the visionary “One Medicine” career of Gordon H. Theilen, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM (oncology).

Dr. Theilen is one of veterinary oncology’s most prolific and internationally appreciated forefathers. He contributed diverse pivotal research in cancer virology, initiated the first veterinary clinical oncology service, was a founding member and first president of the VCS in 1976 and contributed the first reference textbooks, Veterinary Cancer Medicine, 1979 and 1987.

Dr. Theilen created the Comparative Cancer Center, which evolved into the Center for Companion Animal Health at the University of California, Davis. He mentored many researchers and the first generation of veterinary oncologists, who became leaders in their respective fields, touching millions of lives worldwide.

The VCS’s first Theilen Tribute Award in 2009 honored Dr. Greg MacEwen posthumously.

Dr. Withrow, Dipl. ACVS, Dipl. ACVIM (oncology), was selected as the second recipient, to be honored during the VCS meeting in San Diego in October. The winner’s name was kept a surprise. VCS host Dr. Greg Ogilvie invited Dr. Withrow to be a keynote speaker, which set the stage.

Outgoing VCS President Dr. Barb Kitchell, the group’s Executive Board, Dr. Albert Ahn of award sponsor AB Science, Lynda Reed and I all kept the recipient’s name top secret. Later, Dr. Withrow said he was completely surprised and felt it was a “tremendous honor to be considered with Gordon and Greg” and to receive accolades from his colleagues.

Frequent Traveler

Dr. Withrow’s speech was touching and full of humor, wit and inspiration. He said he started out as an altar boy and a Boy Scout. When he was a pre-vet student, he worked in a mixed practice in rural Wisconsin and felt fortunate to receive a draft deferment for veterinary school that came two weeks after his class had started.

He entered the Animal Medical Center in 1972 and remained there for three years, during which he became close friends with the late Dr. MacEwen, with whom he would later co-edit “Small Animal Clinical Oncology, Editions 1-3,” in 1989, 1996 and 2001.

 Next, he said, he went to the coldest place on earth, Saskatchewan, where he was mentored by Dr. Bill Adams and gave 101 lectures. He shared that he had only given two lectures before that. In 1975, he went to the Mayo Clinic and performed 400 scoliosis evaluations. In 1978, he went to CSU and worked in orthopedics and neurosurgery. He said that CSU had Dr. Ed Gillette but no oncology service at that time.

 “I began seeing the oncology cases and did all the chemotherapy, surgery and nursing care,” he said.

‘One Health’ at Work

He affectionately relayed the life-changing value of his work with Sky High Hope Camp—a get-away for children who have cancer—with the quote, “Childhood cancer stinks” from a child named Frances.

He was able to translate veterinary clinical research into helping young spinal osteosarcoma patient Emily Brown, who started a blog, Glad to Be Alive Today, and is still running more than 13 years past her prognosis.

Dr. Withrow reminisced about his role in the development of Colorado State’s Flint Animal Cancer Center. His advice: “Delegate to good people.”

Then he credited Dr. Rod Page and thanked Lynda Reed and their team of department heads. He recounted meeting wonderful pet owners like Bob and Mary Flint, who donated to the building campaign in honor of their pets, Eve and Anna.

30 Years and Counting

The 2010 session marked the 30th standalone Veterinary Cancer Society meeting, Dr. Barb Kitchell noted. Members originally convened during other large conventions.

Dr. Kitchell also announced that Executive Director Barb McGehee was retiring. She served from 1990 to 2010

He credited Elbridge Hadley Stuart, son of the founder of Carnation Milk, who left a yearly endowment to make the CSU Animal Cancer Center’s business sustainable. He mentioned Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf’s support and role in the Animal Cancer Center’s opening ceremonies on Nov. 6, 2002.

Dr. Withrow told us about Bart, the 1,400-pound bear owned by a consortium. Big Bart needed surgery and intraoperative radiation and chemotherapy. Afterward, Bart made a 29-second public service announcement with his trainer about the Animal Cancer Center. Essentially, the visionary Dr. Withrow organized and targeted the power of the human-animal bond into developing  the Animal Cancer Center, which has become his legacy to veterinary oncology.

Dr. Withrow commented on the information explosion—tumor markers, predictors, pathways, proteomics, genomics, microarrays, board certification, supporting societies and disciplines, clinical trials—and the vast changes and challenges in the landscape of education, grants, our profession, our budgets and our times.

He believes we need to provide consults even when clients have not made an appointment, saying, “We owe outreach consults” to society. Dr. Withrow fondly mentioned the Animal Cancer Center’s Wall of Fame and the 57 people mentored over the years with his “see one, do one, teach one” philosophy.

He quoted Nelson Henderson: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees in whose shade you do not expect to sit.” Noting that he has been married 43 years, Dr. Withrow said he grows wedding flowers “since my daughter got married 14 years ago and I enjoy it when people come and cut them.”

Dr. Villalobos is a past president of the American Assn. of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians and is president of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics. Her column appears every other month.

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