Q: In your new role as medical director of the cancer service line, what will you be focusing on in the near future?
A: “Our ultimate goal is to provide state of the art, comprehensive and compassionate care for our cancer patients. I use that as my motto in my everyday work.
The landscape of health care is changing and we are well positioned to continue to provide excellent care. Several new and exciting milestones have occurred that make us confident of a bright future, including the BJC collaborative, Cox Branson and the establishment of a new Medical Research department.
While we are recognized as the place to go for cancer care in Springfield, our goal is to be the primary program for a much larger area and to ensure the highest quality of care and access to clinical trials for a larger population.”
Q: How did you come to practice here at CoxHealth?
A: “I was born and raised in Syria, where my parents had migrated from Turkey. My family is Christian, a minority in Turkey, and because of various religious upheavals my grandparents had to literally migrate every 30-50 years. When I decided to pursue my education, I wanted to do that in the United States.
I did my medical training at the University of Chicago and then joined the faculty of the university. I never thought I’d leave the university – until I met and married a Missourian! It was one of the best things to ever happen to me. She’s from Columbia, and we wanted to come to Missouri. We came here in July of 2000 and it has been a perfect fit professionally and for my family (my wife, Kristen, and our three children Adam, 3, Emily, 10, and Amy, 14).
Q: What originally drew you into oncology as a specialty?
A: “For most of us, cancer has affected someone we love and that triggers an interest. The challenge of conquering cancer has been a driving force for me from my medical school days.
My friends in medical school would say, ‘Why would you want to do that? It’s so depressing.’ But it’s really the opposite. We have a true sense of triumph against cancer and have the actual data and results to prove it. I enjoy what I do and come to work every day looking forward to taking care of my patients.”
Q: What do you enjoy doing in your time off from work?
A: “I love running marathons and half-marathons, and I like fitness and sports in general. I’ve played sports like basketball and soccer all my life. But contact sports have become an issue (laughs). In 2002, I broke my arm playing soccer and I was in a cast for two months. Since then, I’ve really focused on running and now I enjoy it. When I don’t do it, I feel odd, as if I haven’t brushed my teeth!”
Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: “I’m a very predictable guy to be honest with you. Huh. (pauses) Should I call my wife?” He dials his iPhone and soon Kristen is on the line. Her answer is quick: “The biggest thing is how he plays with our son. He’s so great with Adam – people would be amazed at what he does.”
The Abdallas explain that 3-year-old Adam arrived after they had thought they were finished having children.
“He’s so academic and so professional, but yet he can go outside, get on the ground and dig in the dirt with Adam. He’s so nurturing, it’s amazing.”
Dr. Abdalla says, “He was a surprise kid for us – a pleasant surprise! I can be with him all day and all night and absolutely enjoy every second of it.”
Bonus round: More on what Dr. Abdalla says people might be surprised to know about him:
“I like rock music. I picked that up with running. When I drive, I listen to NPR. My girls hate that! But when I run I listen to AC/DC. My favorite band of all time is Dire Straits. I’ve followed Mark Knopfler since the late 80s. I’ve seen him a few times. He’s really awesome.”
His love of sports has also led to a tradition with friends he’s had since his residency training:
“Every year, I go to first and second round March Madness games with three friends. For more than 15 years, we’ve done that every year. Since our days in Chicago, we choose a city and we go. This year, we went to Kansas City. We don’t follow a particular team, we just choose a city and see all the games.”