A trip to Hawaii to share his expertise with another cancer center turned into a harrowing experience for Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD, the director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center.

“I thought I was going to die,” says Theodorescu. “I called my wife to tell her I love her.”

Along with approximately one million other cell phone users, Theodorescu received a text alert Saturday, January 13, 2018 saying, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Theodorescu had been in Hawaii to assist University of Hawaii Cancer Center (UHCC) in preparing for an upcoming visit by that National Cancer Institute for its Cancer Center Support Grant competitive renewal.

“I was getting ready for breakfast with my colleagues from UHCC when the alert crossed my phone,” he says.

“My wife, Diane, is the rock of our family,” says Theodorescu. “I made sure she knew how much I appreciate everything she does for me and our children, Thomas and Claire. I wanted to talk to them too but Diane encouraged me to wait to be sure the threat was real.”

As we know now, the text message was a mistake. A mistake made by an emergency worker during a routine drill. But for nearly 40 minutes, Theodorescu thought about what he would say to Thomas and Claire.

“I have been a physician and a cancer researcher for 30 years,” says Theodorescu. “I have been with patients and their families as they consider serious, end-of-life decisions. But I hadn’t really thought about how I would talk to my own family if my time seemed short.”

Theodorescu credits his family with his accomplishments, saying his kids are his biggest fans. In this time before the all-clear, Theodorescu’s thoughts turned to thanking his kids for allowing him to pursue his passion for cancer research, which sometimes meant missing soccer games and birthday parties.

“After the all-clear, it was a relief to proceed with sharing information about our passion to move cancer science forward,” he says. “We know our work is important, but this experience made me appreciate the blessings in my life — my family and the privilege to carry out scientific research that may benefit patients.”

“I was worried I wouldn’t have enough time to say goodbye to them,” says Theodorescu. “When I got the word it was a false alarm, I was glad to be alive. Like so many of my patients, I’m so grateful to have the time to say these things that need to be said.”