For Joanne Lutman, RN, oncology nurse at the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, all of her patients become her family. That’s why she has a special way of celebrating her patients’ last chemotherapy appointment — with balloons, mardi gras beads and a princess crown for her female patients. “It’s a celebration, like another birthday,” she says, a rite of passage that marks a new beginning in their lives. Joanne is no stranger to new beginnings — she has supported her own daughter through two different cancers.
Cedars-Sinai is one of the largest nonprofit academic medical centers in the U.S. with 886 licensed beds, 2,100 physicians, 3,000 nurses and thousands of other healthcare professionals and staff. Clinical programs range from primary care for preventing, diagnosing and treating common conditions to specialized treatments for rare, complex and advanced illnesses.
Explore our stories to learn how we bring something unique to treating cancer.
Meet the experts:
Sam Klempner, MD
Oncologist, Precision Medicine
Sam Klempner, MD, rises before the sun many days, a useful habit left over from growing up on a Massachusetts farm. He serves as the director of Precision Medicine at The Angeles Clinic and Research Institute, a Cedars-Sinai affiliate.
“Time is precious, and every second of daylight counts,” says Klempner.
This tireless work ethic established on the farm was amplified when he lost his mother to colon cancer.
“I was in medical school studying cancer when she passed away,” he says. “After seeing firsthand the lack of targeted therapies, I was committed to working on developing better options.”
He’s never lost that urgency during his medicine and oncology training at Harvard, and it still drives him every day as he sees patients in Los Angeles.
“The more tools you have, the better you’ll be able to solve any problem,” Klempner says.
His knack for problem solving in late-stage cancers has led patients to him even when their disease is advanced. He feels a great responsibility to them knowing they are counting on him to find innovative treatments for aggressive cancers.
“Oncology is a lot like farming,” he says. “There are always problems, a constant need for better tools and never enough hours in the day. But with teamwork and a systematic approach, we should be able to overcome.”
The sound of laughter is the sound of life. It’s the sound of winning the day.
Jerry Koontz loves to win. For him, the patients he escorts in and out of the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute are standing in the ring against cancer, and it’s his job to be in their corner. He arms each of them with strength and laughter.
When you have cancer, your strength fluctuates, sometimes from moment to moment, he says. There’s no script for cancer, so Koontz doesn’t follow one, either. He doesn’t have a repertoire of jokes. He quips with his patients like they’re old friends or family.
“I don’t know anyone on the planet who hasn’t been affected by cancer,” he says. “I fought with my mother, and I didn’t lose. You have to take off the gloves and fight cancer bare-knuckled. I’ll get in the ring with you.”
He’s often the first person patients see when they arrive for their appointments. He isn’t just helping them get to where they need to go. He’s taking stock of their mood, checking on how their family members are feeling. He’s formed bonds with patients, including some who have battled cancer for a decade or more.
“You have to win the minute, the hour and the days. It’s the laughter that helps win days,” he says. “And I like to win.”