Starr joins ThedaCare cancer team as oncologist

Physician brings global experience to the job

When Dr. Alexander Starr was 9 years old, his family came to the United States from the former Soviet Union and eventually became naturalized citizens in 1987.

“My father is an internist, and since I was a young boy, I wanted to be a doctor, too,” said Starr, the newest oncologist and hematologist to join ThedaCare Cancer Care in Appleton.

Starr is bilingual in English and Russian. He graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in economics and went to medical school at Rush Medical College in Chicago. He then completed an internship and residency in internal medicine at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center, and a fellowship in hematology/oncology at Rush Cancer Institute, after which he entered private practice in Chicago.

Starr is an assistant professor of medicine at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, where he enjoys teaching residents and medical students about cancer therapies.

Trips to Austria, the Philippines, Mexico, Turkey and Thailand over the past 18 years gave Starr the opportunity to present to other world cancer specialists on a topic of special interest to him; namely, the over-expression of a gene that causes up to 25 percent of breast cancers. Starr, while a fellow at Rush Cancer Institute, was part of a research team led by Dr. Melody Cobleigh that ultimately developed the first FDA-approved drug to target the HER2 gene, a successful drug now known as Herceptin.

“This was when I realized I wanted to be a specialist in community practice. I saw what rewarding work it was to care for breast cancer patients and people with other malignancies,” Starr said.

He was a director of hospice in Chicago for many years and takes issues surrounding quality of life for his patients seriously, explaining, “I believe strongly in patient autonomy and helping people make decisions that will improve their lives, not merely extend it.”

Starr and his wife, Norma, herself an experienced chemotherapy nurse, researcher and cancer navigator, recently bought a house in Appleton. They have four sons: Tony, Ari, Tino and Elan. Starr’s first impression of the Fox Valley is its warm hospitality and how remarkably easy it is to get around. A native of Chicago who worked for 15 years as the medical director of a breast center there, he’s delighted to discover the local definition of rush hour lasts about 20 minutes and traffic barely slows.

Starr’s hobbies have also taken him to World Cup soccer games in South Africa, European Champions League Finals in England, and countless stateside competitions. A serious soccer athlete in high school and college, he admits that “I am a soccer fanatic who loves to travel — those are my two favorite things to do for fun.”

Starr repeatedly mentions his wife, Norma, as he recounts his career moves and special interests.

“I feel so fortunate to have a partner who understands the complexity of what I do,” he said. “Norma helps me process the human side of cancer care, beyond the science. She helps me be a better person and a better doctor.”