Donald buchsbaum with
scientists James mobley
and Christopher Klug
16 u A b C o m P r e H e N S I V e C A N C e r C e N T e r
consistently found that through these lifestyle
modifications, the study participants lost sig-
nificant amounts of weight.
During this same period, obesity began to
emerge as a hot topic across the United States.
The 2001 Pooling Project reported that obe-
sity was a major risk factor for five cancers:
breast (in postmenopausal women), colorectal,
endometrial, kidney and esophageal. Science
also was beginning to show that weight played
an important role in both cancer prevention
and survivorship. “The science was beginning
to catch up with what we were doing,” Dr.
A LIfE-ChANgINg EVENt
While Dr. Demark-Wahnefried is a cancer
researcher, she is also a cancer survivor. At age
26, she was diagnosed with a sarcoma in her
upper leg. She was working as an outpatient
dietician at the time and had just started her
doctoral studies at Syracuse University. “It was
a life-changing event, and it took a while to
get over my fears of getting it again,” she says.
When she made the decision to move to
North Carolina, Dr. Demark-Wahnefried had
the option to work as a ghostwriter for one
professor or as a project manager for a cancer
researcher. Though her personal history with
cancer made the decision difficult, she chose
the latter. “My first year of being a cancer
researcher was like being too close to the prob-
lem. The first project my boss assigned me
was on prostate cancer, because as she said, I
couldn’t get that kind of cancer,” Dr. Demark-
Wahnefried recalls with a laugh.
“Having had a diagnosis of cancer, you’re
always waiting for the other shoe to drop,”
she says. “It was hard for me to overcome, but
now, cancer is my life.”
After 16 years at Duke, Dr. Demark-
Wahnefried accepted a position at M.D.
Anderson Cancer Center as a professor of
behavioral sciences. It wasn’t long—just three
years—before UAB Cancer Center director
Ed Partridge, M.D., came calling. “Ed asked
me if I had ever thought of Alabama,” Dr.
Demark-Wahnefried says. “I said Alabama
had never been on my bucket list, but he was
Dr. Partridge’s—and UAB’s—reputa-
tion as a leader in cancer control research
was extremely enticing to Dr. Demark-
Wahnefried. “Ed is someone who ‘gets’ cancer
control,” she says. “He understands the whole
population basis of the disease, which is
Yet another reason aiding her decision to
join the Cancer Center was Alabama’s high
rate of obesity (see cover story). “I thought that
Alabama was where I could do the most good,
and that this is where I belong,” she says.
fINDINg MOtIVAtION Though her work keeps her extremely busy,
Dr. Demark-Wahnefried enjoys gardening and
ballroom dancing with her husband, Gene.
The two met in high school and have been
married 31 years. They have two children: son
Nick, who is studying hydrology, the study
of the movement, distribution and quality of
water, in Las Vegas, and daughter Petra, who
is enrolled at Princeton Divinity School.
Dr. Demark-Wahnefried also spends a
great deal of her time mentoring postdoctoral
students and junior faculty members, who
she says “will be the generation to solve the
problem of cancer.” That interaction with col-
leagues and the collaborative spirit at UAB
are a tremendous motivation for Dr. Demark-
Wahnefried. It’s those “teachable moments”
that can make a difference, she says.
“There’s a lot of good that can come out of
a cancer diagnosis. It’s a teachable moment
that makes you sit back and say, ‘What do I
want to do with my life?’ Life becomes really
precious, and some lose sight of that,” she says.
“UAB is a place where we can really make a
difference in people’s lives. That’s what keeps
“UAB Is A pLACE whERE wE CAN REALLy
MAkE A DIffERENCE IN pEOpLE’s LIVEs.
thAt’s whAt kEEps ME gOINg.” – Wendy demark-Wahnefried