Employee Voices

A True Giant of Cancer Care

In his fight against gynecological cancer, Dr. Robert Coleman, chief scientific officer at US Oncology Research, says research saves lives.

Read time: 5 minutes

Each year, the OncLive® Giants of Cancer Care® program recognizes individuals whose career achievements in the field of global oncology have greatly impacted patient care and research. It’s an honor bestowed to very few – out of the 818 nominations for inductees into the 2020 class of Giants, just 15 were picked.

Robert L. Coleman, MD, FACOG, FACS was among the 15 recognized for the 2020 class. And for good reason.

Early in 2020, Dr. Coleman joined McKesson as Chief Scientific Officer at US Oncology Research, the research arm of The US Oncology Network, to fight cancer by creating more research opportunities for oncologists in practices across The Network.

It’s a mission he’s been dedicated to his entire career. His more than three decades driving advancements in ovarian, uterine and cervical cancer research have produced some of the most promising treatments and procedures available to gynecological cancer patients today.

Among the most notable is his clinical research on PARP inhibitors – a type of targeted therapy that prevents cancer cells from repairing and growing – for advanced ovarian cancer management. Through the course of many trials exploring this therapy, Dr. Coleman’s successful findings have significantly helped reduce the progression of several kinds of ovarian cancer in recent years.

“Research cures cancer,” Dr. Coleman says. “It’s more than just a motto – it’s a truism that is already having a major impact on patients’ lives. It is the absolute focus of what drives me.”

Creating the Moments That Can’t Be Replaced

Dr. Coleman has devoted his life to giving patients hope. His dedication to research has cured patients diagnosed with many once hard-to-treat cancers and greatly extended the lives of many others.

But what his patients give back to him has forever changed him, too.

Dr. Coleman recalls one patient who left a special mark on his own life – Michele. In late 2010, Michele was diagnosed with a complicated form of ovarian cancer. She decided to travel from Florida and undergo chemo at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. That’s where she met Dr. Coleman.

“Dr. Coleman was a prince,” she wrote in Letters From Houston, her book detailing the early days of her cancer journey. From day one, he talked her through everything she could expect throughout the course of her therapy. But they also talked about life. Over the next four years, they shared stories about their families and her work. Bringing joy to children was one of Michele’s greatest joys, so even on her most difficult days, she never failed to light up when talking about the children’s boutique she owned back home. It was on one of her many trips to Houston that Michele gifted Dr. Coleman’s oldest granddaughter a stuffed animal from her store – a rabbit.

Ultimately, Michele’s cancer progressed beyond what even the most promising therapies of the time could cure. During her final visit to his clinic, she thanked Dr. Coleman for the invaluable opportunities she might have lost had her cancer journey not taken her to him. She felt well enough to take more trips to see her sisters. She spent more days working in her store. They were moments not possible without the innovative therapies developed through years of research.

Stuffed rabbit celebrates her birthday with a cake

Every year, Dr. Coleman and his family honor Michele on Rabbit’s birthday. It’s an occasion always complete with cake, candles, and photos of the celebration that Dr. Coleman shares with Michele’s husband.

Her gratitude continued presenting itself in an especially poignant moment the day she lost her cancer battle.

On that particular day, Dr. Coleman’s granddaughter came bounding into the room. Out of all her many toys, it was the rabbit from Michele that she brought in tow. Not knowing she had passed, his granddaughter said matter-of-factly, “You know what today is? Today is Rabbit’s birthday.”

“It was such an amazing thing to witness,” he says. “This joy that Rabbit brought my granddaughter, especially on that day of all days, was a deep reminder of the connection Michele had with so many people – with children, with me and with so many others she brought joy to along the way.”

He pauses. “When you’re in this business, you hope your work can impact your patients’ lives like it did Michele’s. It’s one thing to know your research has changed their lives for the better. It’s another to actually see how they go out and make the most of those restored opportunities,” he says. “It’s those moments you can’t replace. When people ask me why I do what I do, it’s because of that. I do it because of that.”

More Opportunities Where Patients Need Them

Historically, patients with aggressive cancers were often faced with a tough decision: take their chances with more limited care options available near home, or, like Michele, uproot their lives to get the most cutting-edge care available at renowned – yet far away – cancer centers.

As CSO of US Oncology Research, Dr. Coleman is focused on bringing more of those advanced treatment opportunities directly to the patients, rather than the other way around. It’s part of The Network’s community oncology mission: treating cancer patients closer to home.

Today, The Network includes more than 1,350 physicians – many who conduct cutting-edge cancer research and clinical trials across the country. For his part, Dr. Coleman identifies, operationalizes and delivers promising new trials to practices, or “sites” across The Network, providing them with close-to-home access to revolutionary treatments. The more sites he can reach, the more patients who can benefit from the latest breakthroughs in cancer research.

“I always tell people you’ve got to move the needle. We’re all given opportunities and gifts, but it’s up to us to make them useful. My gift happens to be in research, so it’s my responsibility to keep driving that needle forward each and every day,” he says, before adding, “It’s one of the reasons I’m really excited to be with US Oncology Research. We’re this large, connected group of people who are all committed to making the world a better place for patients.”

It’s clear that in his 30-plus years of practicing, Dr. Coleman has already done just that. It’s why he’s earned his spot as a Giant of Cancer Care, and why McKesson is proud to have him driving The Network’s mission forward.

About Dr. Coleman's Career

Medical Practice Highlights:

  • US Oncology Research – Chief Scientific Officer
  • International Gynecologic Cancer Society – President
  • Society of Oncologic Gynecology – President
  • MD Anderson Cancer Center, Department of Gynecologic Oncology – Deputy Chair and Ann Rife Cox Chair in Gynecology, Executive Director, Cancer Network Research, Professor
  • UT Southwestern Medical Center, Obstetrics and Gynecology – Vice Chairman of Gynecologic Services and Associate Professor, Patricia Duniven Fletcher Professorship in Gynecologic Oncology

Major Contributions to the Field:

  • Pioneered numerous innovative surgical techniques for ovarian cancer management
  • Led multiple clinical trials resulting in breakthrough therapies, including the use of bevacuzimab (an antibody drug) for ovarian cancer management
  • Authored and co-authored more than 600 scientific publications
  • Mentored new generations of oncologic researchers and established new training techniques