On Friday mornings, Dr. David Wazer still expects a friendly knock on his office door. For as many years as he can remember, Dr. John “Jack” Erban arrived like clockwork, early in the morning, a hot chocolate in each hand. What followed was 45 minutes of sacred time carved out for a friendship that began when the two were fellows at New England Medical Center, now Tufts Medical Center. The conversations were warm and lively, ranging from discussions about family, to politics and more often than not, science. (pictured right: Jack Erban from the TUSM yearbook)
“I have to say he was the smartest doctor I ever met, very thoughtful, very well informed, very well read. But he coupled that with this enormous sense of compassion. He just cared very deeply about his patients. It was as if every one of his patients were his only patient the way he devoted attention to them. I was amazed by that,” said Dr. Wazer, Chief of Radiation Oncology.
Dr. Erban passed away on September 2, 2020 at the age of 65 after a yearlong battle with brain cancer. An internationally recognized oncologist, his memory lives on in the countless lives he touched and the science he helped advance.
After completing his fellowship training, Dr. Erban joined Tufts Medical Center as an attending physician in the Division of Hematology/Oncology and the faculty of the Tufts University School of Medicine, where he rose to the rank of professor. Over the years, he served in many leadership roles at Tufts MC, including Chief of Hematology/Oncology, Co-Director of the Breast Cancer program, and later Clinical Director and Associate Director for Clinical Sciences at the Tufts Medical Center Cancer Center. For more than 26 years, Nurse Practitioner, Marybeth Singer served alongside him.
“He was a masterful diagnostician, and I can credit him with teaching me how to listen with a critical, skilled ear; to ask the right questions and to cast a wide net. Diagnostic reasoning from a book is no match for a masterful clinical mentor. He absolutely made me the best clinician I could be and a better human being,” said Singer. “His patients benefitted by his skill as well as his gentle compassion. I would often say, ‘I wish I could just bottle a little dose of Jack for them.’”
“The essence of Dr. Erban is hope, compassion, integrity, kindness, healer, gentleman and teacher,” said Cate Mullen, MSN, RN, Nurse Coordinator for the Breast Health Center. “The most valuable lesson he shared with me was when he said, ‘Cate, if you keep your focus on the patient, you will do the right thing and make the right decisions.’ This is absolutely true and has guided me in my practice for many years.”
Known for both his tenacity and his sense of humor, Dr. Erban could be counted on for a smile, a laugh and a glint in his eye that put his patients at ease. He was also a fierce advocate, determined to improve the lives of his patients and eradicate the beast called breast cancer.
“He was very precise and needed to know everything there was to know about a case, including my thoughts in great detail about the pathology of any particular breast tumor,” said Stephen Naber, MD, PhD, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. “It was the type of relationship that physicians like to have with other physicians, tapping all available resources to get as much information as you possibly can to benefit the patient.”
“He helped so many of his patients make it to their next big life moment, whether that was a wedding, an anniversary or the birth of grandchild, and his patients were grateful for that,” added longtime administrative assistant Cristine Gourley.
To his very core Dr. Erban was not only committed to patient care, but also to research. On the vanguard and dedicated to advancing breast cancer treatment as rapidly as possible, he oversaw the clinical trials office at Tufts MC for a number of years.
“He was passionate about that and always had a portfolio of clinical trials. Every woman we saw here in the Breast Health Center, if she were a candidate, she would be offered participation in a clinical trial,” said Dr. Wazer. “I can’t think of a better legacy than that. He really advanced the science.”
For more than two decades, Dr. Erban also served on the Board of Directors for the Silent Spring Institute, a scientific organization dedicated to discovering links between chemicals in the environment and women’s health, especially the impact on breast cancer. Additionally, as Clinical Director of the Cancer Center, he worked closely with the Cam Neely Foundation and the Neely House here at Tufts Medical center.
"I really do feel that in a lot of ways Dr. Erban is irreplaceable. He was always going above and beyond. I recall a younger patient who was an avid Bruins fan. During her last visit to Tufts before transitioning to hospice care, Dr. Erban arranged for her to meet Cam Neely, which was an unforgettable moment given to her and her family,” said Breast Health Center Nurse Practitioner Carolyn Rooney.
“Jack had a profound sense of dedication to his patients, his colleagues, his profession and the cancer program here at Tufts Medical Center. He was deeply invested in training and educating, and felt an immense responsibility to future generations of physicians,” said Cancer Center Director, Dr. Rachel Buchsbaum. “He made a profound impact on cancer research and care, and he is already greatly missed.”
“He will live on in the many people he helped and taught in his outstanding career,” said Gourley. “I will never forget him as he has taught me so much along the way.”
Tufts Medical Center will organize a commemoration event at a later date. You can read more about Dr. Erban’s life and work in his obituary from the Boston Globe. To leave a remembrance of him, please visit the guestbook here.
Dr. Jack Erban Celebration of Life Video