We were delighted to see one of our Komen Scholars – Dr. Kimberly Blackwell of Duke University — named as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People today. We know Dr. Blackwell to be one of the top breast cancer researchers and clinicians in the country, dedicated to answering some of the toughest questions in breast cancer science: Why do some tumors spread and others don’t? Why do some women develop resistance to therapies over time? What new treatments can be developed to either prevent cancer from metastasizing, or stop it when it does? Can we develop a vaccine against breast cancer?
Dr. Blackwell has been on the leading edge of science that can answer those questions. She’s credited with the development of lapatinib, a drug that targets HER1/HER2 breast cancer. She was the first investigator to study the drug in an animal model of tamoxifen resistance. And just last year, Dr. Blackwell unveiled practice-changing results from a clinical trial of T-DM1 (marketed as Kadcyla), a drug for metastatic HER2 breast cancer patients that extended lives while causing less serious side effects than the standard course of treatment.
It’s a special privilege to have Dr. Blackwell on Komen’s team as a Komen Scholar (a team of almost 70 researchers and advocates that helps to guide our research program). We at Komen have been happy to help provide more than $500,000 to support her research. And we’re humbled by the kind words she had to say today upon hearing of her TIME 100 nod.
“I share this recognition with Komen, knowing that every step forward is one that saves thousands of lives,” Dr. Blackwell said. “I have a keen interest in making a difference in breast cancer care, and having a personal contribution to finding a cure. I have spent my entire career thinking about how to improve treatment access to the patients that need them and will benefit from them.”
All of us at Susan G. Komen applaud Dr. Blackwell on this outstanding achievement and continue to support her important research. Her career has been exciting to watch, and I am proud Susan G. Komen could be part of it.
Guest post from Komen Advocate in Science member, Rebecca Seago-Coyle
Last week I had the privilege of attending the 2013 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. as part of the Scientist Survivor Program (SSP). Along with 25 others from various organizations in the 2013 SSP, I was proudly representing Susan G. Komen as a member of Komen’s Advocates in Science. As a breast cancer survivor myself, it was one of the most powerful weeks I think I’ve ever experienced , and I learned a great deal about so many cancer topics.
As part of the AACR’s SSP, we participated in the Rally for Medical Research on Monday, April 8th to raise awareness of the critical need to make funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) a national priority. Everyone in the SSP was given VIP passes to sit in the front rows of the Rally. It was a beautiful day and it was an empowering day.
I try to stay out of politics, and if someone had told me 3 years ago that I would be participating in a Rally for Medical Research, I would have thought they were crazy. But the reality is, politics plays a key role in finding the cures. Federal funding for research continues to decline and threaten our future health. Being a young breast cancer survivor myself, I can’t just fly under the radar. My voice needs to be heard. There is always more that we can do – as survivors, as caretakers, as advocates and as researchers.
The Rally consisted of members of Congress, patients and survivors speaking and advocating in their own way to educate the public and research organizations to make our voices heard. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a 27-year ovarian cancer survivor, said no one should survive by luck – and she’s right. One of the first things I thought when I got diagnosed was that I’m so lucky. Technology is on my side – a cancer diagnosis isn’t what it used to be. Because of the research that has been accomplished over the last 30 years with breast cancer, I know my chances of survival are great. However, there are still some that aren’t so lucky – and that’s why it’s so important to stand up, let your voice be heard, and do something about finding cures for cancer and other diseases.
Breast cancer runs in my family and it hits us early in life when we should be worrying about other things, like planning our families. My grandmother passed away when she was 34, I lost my aunt when she was 34, and my cousin was 30 when she was diagnosed (and is now a 12 year survivor!).
When I was diagnosed, my team of doctors suggested I get tested for the BRCA mutation, making me the first in my family to get tested. I tested positive – I knew I would, given my family history. But learning about the mutation helped me plan my treatment to be more aggressive so I could reduce the chance of it coming back. Because of researchers who found the mutations, I was able to make important decisions for my future.
The rally also consisted of other survivors – not just cancer – who shared their stories of how they benefited from medical research. It’s so important to be a research and patient advocate. It helps bring together the researcher and the patient experience so that progress can be made.
So what does this mean now? I’m just a breast cancer survivor and advocate from Olympia, Washington, how can I make my voice heard? It means I need to get to know my representatives and make it known how important it is for them to vote for medical research, not cut it. It also means learning about different ways I can help in my community – like at the treatment center where I was treated. Together, with more progress and more hope, we can save more lives!
Here are some helpful links to get involved:
Kristi Mangan, Manassas, VA – Survivor
“When I learned that Komen provided breast cancer screenings and treatment for uninsured, low-income women, I knew I had to participate in the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure even though it would be just one week after my last chemo treatment.”
“I hope to help other women, especially moms, to receive screenings and treatment and to ensure no other mother has to tell her children ‘Mommy has cancer.’”
I thought I was doing everything right. January 2012, at the age of 37, I was a fanatic runner, eating organic foods and avoiding chemicals in makeup and cleaning products. I had breastfed my boys exclusively for a year each. So, I was concerned but not overly worried when I discovered a lump in my right breast. Then, like so many other 30-something women, I was utterly shocked when I was told the next day that the 1.5 cm tumor appeared cancerous. My immediate concerns were not for me but for my sons, 3 and 5. The thought that I might not live to help them grow up was devastating. Four weeks later, after a whirlwind of scans, doctors’ appointments, and biopsies, I began chemotherapy for aggressive HER-2/neu positive stage II cancer.
Those first months of treatment were a struggle: Scared, bald, exhausted, and incredibly (annoyingly!) gaining weight during chemo, I swung from disbelief to sadness to anger. My family dropped everything to help me, repeatedly insisting that something positive would come of my fight. With their help, I became determined to beat breast cancer and emerge from it stronger than before. I scoured the web for other women’s success stories. I continued to run through withering fatigue, achiness and anemia that robbed me of my breath and brought me to within a point of a blood transfusion. My awesome oncology nurse, Harlene, called me “runner girl” and liked to announce my low pulse rate to everyone in the room. My mantra became: “Cancer, you’re just another finish line for me to cross.”
By April, knowing the tumor had shrunk significantly, I yearned to connect with fellow survivors and to do my part to draw attention to this devastating illness. I felt a need to share my hopes, my heartbreak, my struggle and my triumph. When I learned that Komen provided breast cancer screenings and treatment for uninsured, low-income women, I knew I had to participate in the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure even though it would be just one week after my last chemo treatment. I ran bald as my way of shouting to the world that even seemingly healthy, younger women were being affected by this devastating disease. I was self-conscious as I walked into the survivors’ area but an elderly woman saw me, held out her arms, and simply said: “Come here, baby.” I sobbed in the arms of that 11-year survivor, a stranger and now a sister. I will never forget the strength I felt as she prayed for me and my continued healing.
Then, with my bald head gleaming, I ran the entire 5K with my family, lapping up the shouts of encouragement and cries of “go baldie!” The triumph was made even sweeter because I had learned days before that the tumor and affected lymph nodes were no longer detectable by mammogram or sonogram; a few weeks later, pathology following surgery would show no evidence of disease. A Komen photographer captured the joyful moment my sister and I crossed the finish line and she kissed my bald head.
Seeing that photo on Komen’s homepage in February 2013 was a sign to me that I had to share my story and help other cancer patients and survivors. One year after my first Komen race, I am back to running half marathons, managing lymphedema, preparing for my last surgery, and gathering “Team Stronger” to run the Komen Global Race for the Cure on May 11. One year later, I now know six other women in their 30s who were recently diagnosed with breast cancer. It has made me more determined than ever to support Komen’s efforts to raise awareness about early detection, funding for treatment, and investing in research to find the cures for breast cancer. I hope to help other women, especially moms, to receive screenings and treatment and to ensure no other mother has to tell her children “Mommy has cancer.” I hope to reassure other women that cancer is a diagnosis, not a death sentence. I want the world to know that, with the faith, love and support of this inspiring Komen family, we are stronger than ever.
Learn more about the Komen Global Race for the Cure – May 11, 2013.
Even though it may not feel like it everywhere, spring is finally here. The days are longer, flowers are blooming and the new season has brought races filled with fun and firsts, all in an effort to raise funds for local breast cancer initiatives and to support our national research grants program.
In Louisiana, the Susan G. Komen Acadiana Race for the Cure® isn’t just for runners or walkers. Teams can also support the cause by participating in the annual Komen Acadiana Race for the CureJambalaya Cookoff. The event takes place in conjunction with the Race, and all attendees are invited to choose a People’s Choice winner after sampling the entries.
The same weekend, more than 5,000 people gathered at a new venue in Tucson for the 15th annual Komen Southern Arizona Race for the Cure. This was the first year the Race was held on the University of Arizona campus.
UA track and field athlete and Olympic silver medalist, Brigetta Barrett, served as the Honorary Race Chair. Her duties included singing the “Star-Spangled Banner,” riding in the pace car and thanking sponsors. For Barrett, this was more than just a local race. Her mother, Lottie, is a breast cancer survivor who, despite being diagnosed with breast cancer about 18 months ago, was able to travel to London last summer to witness her daughter’s 6 ft.8 in. Olympic high jump.
Elsewhere, nearly 1,000 people gathered in Lawton, Oklahoma for the 2nd annual Susan G. Komen Lawton/Ft.Sill Race for the Cure. Race organizers said they were overjoyed with this year’s participation, which was up nearly 65 percent from the inaugural Race last year.
The 17th annual Komen Los Angeles County Race for the Cure, held at Dodger Stadium on March 23, gave participants a new option to “Double Down,” by completing the 5K, 10K or both by going twice around the classic 5K course.
Several notable supporters also made this a special event, including Lakers star Jordan Hill, who lost his mother to breast cancer at the age of three and formed his own team for the Race.
Four young sisters, Keiko (18), Ella (16), Mimi (13), and Bopah (10) Sledge, who make up the band ‘Sledge Grits,’ also lifted spirits and provided a healing touch through their music. The Sledge sisters are young, but they know about hardship; their grandmother lost her battle with breast cancer at the age of 48. The girls now use a song dedicated to their grandmother, to try and help others.
This past weekend saw two Races along Interstate 35 in Texas, as both Komen Greater Fort Worth and Komen San Antonio hosted their annual events.
Army Major Eric R. Peterson wanted to run the Komen Greater Fort Worth Race for Cure, but that is hard to do while deployed in Afghanistan. So the Texas native and other U.S. service members held a 5K of their own twelve hours before the Fort Worth race started. 145 servicemen and women laced up their shoes to run at Camp Phoenix, a military installation outside Kabul. The troops called it a “shadow run,” a first for the Greater Fort Worth Affiliate.
That same morning, nearly 25,000 people packed the streets of downtown San Antonio for the 16th annual Komen San Antonio Race for the Cure, which raised more than $1 million. Attendees reported that the Survivor Celebration was especially memorable because local anchorwoman Karen Martinez, from KABB FOX 29, was honored and memorialized, after recently passing following a long battle with breast cancer.
Check out the story that ran in the San Antonio Express-News on Sunday along with some great photos.
In 31 years as leader of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, it’s been my privilege to come to know and love the remarkable people facing breast cancer. Far too often, I’ve also come to know the incomprehensible grief of losing them to this disease, just as I lost my own sister, Suzy, 33 years ago.
Another of our guiding lights died last night. You have seen her on our website and perhaps in our national public service ads. Her name is Bridget Spence. She was 29 years old, and died peacefully in Boston, surrounded by her husband and family, and mourned by a global family of those who came to know her through the eloquence of her blog and her activism against this disease.
Bridget was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer when she was just 21 – a young person finishing up college, a time when her main worries should have been about starting a career, falling in love, getting married, planning a family and embarking on a long and full life. Instead, she would spend her 20s navigating surgical suites, oncology wards and clinical trials, learning the dreadful language of cancer.
It was a language she not only learned, but dedicated herself to sharing with others. She became a fixture at our Global Race in Washington, D.C., always with a ready smile, a boundless optimism, and a burning desire to spread the word about breast cancer in young women. She walked the 60-mile Komen 3-Day many times. She appeared at rallies for young women. She told of meeting Dr. Ann Partridge at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a Komen grantee specializing in breast cancer in young women. She wrote of her delight and gratitude for a doctor who scheduled treatments around Bridget’s wedding and honeymoon plans; preserving her eggs so that she might one day have children, and otherwise understanding the unique world of women in their 20s facing breast cancer.
Bridget spoke at a Komen conference last year, telling the crowd that she was standing there with tumors in her liver, lungs and bones, but she was standing there. And as long as she was standing there, she had hope. You can see a video of her speech here. I saw her not long after that at our Washington, D.C., Global Race. And she sent me a note late last year, just after she learned that the cancer had spread yet again. Another clinical trial. Another treatment. Another shot at hope.
Her last blog posting came on Dec. 26, and with her characteristic courage and candor, she shared with us the message that none of us could bear.
“It is time for me to ask each of you to let me go,” she wrote. “It is time to say goodbye.”
The cancer had invaded her lungs and was spreading again. She wanted only to spend the time left with her “Big Man,” her husband, who had given her a diamond for their last Christmas together. She was able to do that, and for that, we are all grateful.
I talked with Bridget and heard what I have heard many times before in too many women and men who are nearing the end of this cruel disease. The tiny voice, the struggle to breathe. And yet, a calm acceptance of what was to be.
To me, it was another life losing its light too early.
Even in Bridget’s final notes to us at Komen, she did not complain or question the unfairness of it all. She thanked all who had fought with her. She was grateful for the medical advances that allowed her to see one more Christmas.
No woman or man who dies from breast cancer is ever a statistic to us, and I was so grateful to be able to tell Bridget that we will remember her as we hoped she wished to be remembered, in ways that will help others.
In Bridget’s memory, and with our partner, New Balance, Komen’s Massachusetts Affiliate is establishing a program specifically to serve young people. Just 5 percent of breast cancer cases occur in women under 40, but they are often diagnosed at late stages (as Bridget’s was), when the cancer has started a deadly march through the body. Treatment is difficult and the social and emotional issues associated with the cancer are especially harsh to a woman just starting her life, as Bridget recounted so eloquently.
We also will redouble our efforts to educate and encourage participation in clinical trials for metastatic disease – the trials that Bridget credits with keeping her alive for one more year, one more month, and one final Christmas with her “Big Man.” Bridget understood the potential of these trials to provide treatments for aggressive and metastatic forms of the disease. She participated in these trials and encouraged others to do so as well. Since 2010, Komen has funded grants that include more than 80 clinical trials, each with the potential to better understand, or hopefully cure, breast cancer.
In these ways, and for the benefit of others, Bridget’s light will continue to shine in the lives of millions.
It goes without saying that I will miss Bridget dearly, just as I miss my own sister and as I know we all miss those women and men in our lives whose cancers have taken them too soon.
We will continue to fight for every person with this disease, until every person with breast cancer is cured, and there is no need for anyone, of any age, to worry about breast cancer ever again. That is our promise, to all women, to my sister 33 years ago, and to Bridget and all who loved her today.
Bridget, you will not be forgotten, and may you rest in peace.