Director’s message: our commitment to patients remains unchanged

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Dr. Fonseca offers a message of hope and safety as Mayo Clinic Cancer Center adjusts to the coronavirus.

I stepped into the role of interim executive director of Mayo Clinic Cancer Center with gratitude for the remarkable leadership of Robert B. Diasio, M.D., who served our Cancer Center as director for nearly 14 years. Dr. Diasio worked tirelessly to build on the combined strengths of our three sites in Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona; Jacksonville, Florida; and Rochester, Minnesota, ultimately leading Mayo Clinic to successful National Cancer Institute five-year competitive grant renewals in 2008, 2013 and 2018.

Photo of Rafael Fonseca, M.D.
Rafael Fonseca, M.D.

I began my career at Mayo Clinic in 1998 as a fellow in hematology and medical oncology. Since then, my career as a hematologist and researcher has focused on the diagnosis and treatment of multiple myeloma and related conditions. My research laboratory explores the biology and genetic nature of these cancerous plasma cell disorders, myeloma bone disease, prognostic markers, and the development of new therapies. I've been a member researcher of Mayo Clinic Cancer Center since 1999, and previously served as deputy director of Mayo Clinic Cancer Center in Arizona.

I'm proud to continue Dr. Diasio's work to guide our Cancer Center in finding solutions for the unmet medical needs of our patients with cancer.

2020 has been an extraordinarily challenging year for health care providers. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us, both personally and professionally. It has changed the way we live, and it has changed the way we care for patients — shifting our focus to keeping patients safe and accelerating the pace at which we adopt digital health care approaches, such as video appointments.

We still have fairly limited information about the risks of the coronavirus and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) for cancer patients and cancer survivors. While patients with a weakened immune system from cancer treatment may be at higher risk of infection and more severe symptoms from COVID-19, we still don't know the full implications. It's important to remember that cancer is not just one disease — there are many types of cancer, and COVID-19 may have different implications for each one. COVID-19 seems to result in worse outcomes for people who are generally unwell or of advanced age, and it has shown itself to be particularly aggressive in older men with underlying health conditions. To learn more, Mayo Clinic is conducting research to explore both prevention and treatment options for COVID-19.

We remain steadfast in our commitment to contain further spread of COVID-19 and to create a safe environment for both our patients and our employees. With enhanced safety protocols at each Mayo Clinic location, we are safely providing cancer care and will make every effort to continue to do so.

When this pandemic ends, there will be changes to how we care for patients, and virtual care may prove a valuable component. Some changes will be temporary and some will be permanent. But our core value of putting the patient first and our mission to serve the needs of our patients and relieve the burden of cancer on the world will never change.

Rafael Fonseca, M.D.
Interim Executive Director
Getz Family Professor of Cancer


This article was originally published in Forefront, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center's online magazine, which ceased publication in December 2020.