George W. Sledge, MD, Indianapolis
“We are all part of the ‘Great Weave’ of breast cancer research, the chain of knowledge linking the past and the future.”
“Cancer will likely be cured at the water cooler, not the laboratory, when one researcher approaches another and asks ‘What are you working on?’”
“Komen’s role is not just at a funder of research, but as a convener of researchers.”
I have been involved with breast cancer research for over three decades now, and the most important lesson I have learned is that being a breast cancer researcher involves being a link in a chain, or perhaps (a somewhat broader metaphor), one thread in a very large weave.
I received my training in breast cancer from Dr. Bill McGuire at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Bill McGuire was one of the great breast cancer researchers of his day, an expert in estrogen receptor testing at a time when that was the cutting-edge technology transforming breast cancer care. Bill also was a founding father of the breast cancer biomarker field.
At a time when the field was concentrating on delivering ever-higher doses of ever-more complicated chemotherapy regimens, Bill taught me the importance of biology in breast cancer: biology was destiny for breast cancer patients, and changing their destiny involved first understanding and then altering breast cancer biology. It is a common view today, but at the time it was a new way of looking at breast cancer therapy.
Bill McGuire was one of the very first investigators to be funded by Komen, back in the early 1980’s when I was still a fellow. Komen has a track record of funding excellent investigators, a track record that stretched back decades. Today Komen funds great senior investigators (many of them our Komen Scholars) as well as many of the new and junior investigators who represent the future of breast cancer research: we are all part of the “Great Weave” of breast cancer research, the chain of knowledge linking the past and the future.
My own research has benefited from this “Great Weave.” I have had the good fortune, throughout my career, to benefit from the collaboration of large numbers of people who care passionately about the breast cancer problem. My research (particularly my cooperative group work) has relied on a veritable army of physicians, nurses, data managers, statisticians, and (most importantly of all) patients. Behind all of them, of course, stand the great organizations, both government and private, that fund the research.
The “Great Weave” is both intellectual (the knowledge we have obtained regarding the biology of breast cancer) and social (the army of researchers and patients). It stretches backward in time (my mentor Bill McGuire learned from his mentors) and forward (my trainees, such as Komen Scholar Kathy Miller and Komen Promise Award recipient Bryan Schneider, and my colleague Anna Maria Storniolo, director of the Komen Tissue Bank). It stretches around the world: we are an international community.
The public often views science as a lonely pursuit: the laboratory scientist laboring at a bench, Isaac Newton-like creatures operating in the lofty realms of pure thought in the Groves of Academe. What real-life researchers learn, early in their careers, is that science (and particularly medical science) is, to an impressive degree, a social construct. Great science is the product of the scientific marketplace, ideas bouncing off each other, being refined through interaction, being judged (literally) by committees of one’s peers. Cancer will likely be cured at the water cooler, not the laboratory, when one researcher approaches another and asks “what are you working on?”
Komen’s role is not just at a funder of research, but as a convener of researchers. We bring researchers together at our Scientific Advisory Board, at our Komen Scholars meeting, in our study sections that judge the merits of grants, and in the grant applications themselves (for instance, through the consortia that make up our Promise awards). We are an eminently social organization: we actively create the “Great Weave” of breast cancer research.
And that is why I love working with Komen for the Cure.
Most people knew him as J.R. Ewing on Dallas. We remember him as Larry Hagman, a North Texas native who loaned his star status to Susan G. Komen for the Cure in our very early days. Hagman died last Friday at the age of 81, and our founder and CEO Nancy G. Brinker remembers him in this op-ed in The Dallas Morning News today.
Nancy Brinker: Larry Hagman was J.R. and a whole lot more
Published: 26 November 2012 10:40 PM, Dallas Morning News
It’s a fitting tribute to Larry Hagman’s talent that I sometimes had to step back to remember that J.R. Ewing was not Larry Hagman.
Larry’s most famous role as the malevolent and conniving J.R. Ewing in the iconic series Dallas captivated viewers in more than 90 countries, but perhaps no more so than in the city that gave the series its name. Like millions of people, I watched Dallas in eager anticipation of the sinister smile and the almost limitless treachery of Larry’s character. When he reprised the role this summer, I was one of many who couldn’t wait for a weekly fix of J.R. More than 20 years later, Larry’s J.R. didn’t disappoint.
J.R. was a far cry from the Larry Hagman we knew here in North Texas, the Weatherford native who readily agreed to lend his star status to a number of causes: anti-smoking, organ donation, solar power — and in the 1980s, a little-known breast cancer organization, just getting its start, that would grow to become Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
When I heard that Larry had died of complications from throat cancer last week, I couldn’t help but remember the tremendous service that he and his delightful wife, Maj, provided to women through their early support of Susan G. Komen for the Cure here in our hometown of Dallas, TX. We opened our doors in 1982, and Larry and Maj were ready to help. He rode the pace car in our earliest Dallas races. He recruited men to the cause. He donated J.R.’s signature cowboy hat (in true J.R. style, more than once) to help us raise the funds that got Komen for the Cure off the ground.
His smile and the accompanying twinkle in his eye were genuine. Larry was very, very funny, and he and Maj were welcome additions to any gathering. Behind his mirth was an unerring devotion to health causes. My son, Eric, remembers even today the miniature fans that Larry carried to blow smoke back into the faces of those who dared to light up around him.
Larry went on to chair the Great American Smokeout and recorded public service ads against smoking. He advocated for organ donation and served as an official spokesman for the National Kidney Foundation’s transplant campaigns after his diagnosis with liver cancer and a liver transplant in 1995.
The depth and breadth of his fame was never more apparent than when Larry and Maj visited me in Hungary, where I served as U.S. ambassador in the early 2000s. Years had passed since Dallas left the airwaves, and yet it was still one of the most popular series on Hungarian television. Larry met the man who was responsible for translating the shows into Hungarian and greeted fans with great humor and warmth. It was amazing to see the reach of the show — and the man.
That’s one of the reasons I was so happy to see Larry back in Dallas to film the new Dallas series. In characteristic fashion, he assured his fans that he was feeling optimistic about his health despite his recent throat cancer diagnosis and that he couldn’t wait to bring J.R. back.
There was something comforting in seeing J.R. on the TV screen again. Dallas — both the series and the city — will never be quite the same, but we will both be a little richer for having Larry in our lives.
Thank you, Larry, for a life well-lived and for sharing it with all of us.
Thank you – each of you – for the many ways you have supported Komen this year.
When I look back over the last 30 years of progress in the fight against breast cancer, I am overcome with pride and celebration for the strides we have made together in this fight and the possibilities that lie ahead of us. Thanks to you, Komen has been able to invest more than $750 million into innovative research that is looking for answers that help patients now. Thanks to you, more than $1.5 billion has been invested into community outreach programs that offer valuable services to women and men facing breast cancer.
Because of your support over the past three decades, women can speak openly and candidly about breast cancer; oncologists can often identify the best and most effective treatments for patients, potentially saving individuals from unnecessary chemotherapy or radiation and their side effects; and women around the globe are now receiving better access to quality care so that breast cancer can be detected early, when it is most treatable.
Another important step in the fight against breast cancer came just last week when the International Cancer Research Partnership (ICRP) published its inaugural report. This report brought more than 50 cancer research funding organizations from around the globe together to launch a powerful collaborative movement among cancer researchers. The findings in this report are so vital because they will allow organizations to identify what type of research was and was not being funded, so that each organization can more efficiently and strategically coordinate investments in cancer research, maximizing the impact of your dollars and bringing us closer to the cures.
And as we discover new ways to combat this disease, your support continues to be more important than ever.
So, again – thank you to each and every one of you who participated in a Komen event this year. Thank you for participating in our Races, Marathons and 3-Day walks. Thank you for donning your favorite pink tie, for baking pink cupcakes and for dying your hair pink.
And, of course, thank you to all of our partners and sponsors. Your support makes it possible for us to fund even more research and programs that impact the lives of women and men around the world.
However you chose to support Komen, we are truly grateful for your support, and I personally look forward to making even more strides in this fight, together. Your passion for this important cause inspires us all to have even more hope and excitement for the future.
Wishing you all a wonderful and restful Thanksgiving holiday filled with family and friends, delicious dishes and wonderful memories.
Nancy G. Brinker
BRIDGET SPENCE, BOSTON – Breast Cancer Survivor, Advocate
“I can honestly say: I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for the research of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.”
“I was supported by Komen, I was empowered by Komen, and I was cared for by Komen.”
“I have been on 20 different drugs during my six-year battle with metastatic breast cancer, and every single one has been touched by a Komen for the Cure grant.”
I graduated cum laude from Boston University with a bachelor’s in International Relations in 2005. One week after my graduation from BU, I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. I was only 21 years old and had no family history of the disease. Since my diagnosis in 2005, I have had several recurrences of my cancer and still must attend regular chemotherapy appointments. I’ve lost, and then re-grown, my hair five different times. I have been fighting every day for these past seven years. I feel sometimes like a little girl trying to be a brave big girl on this scary journey.
But I realize I am not alone. When I was first diagnosed, I was fortunate to know good people who introduced me to Breast Friends, a support group funded in part by Susan G. Komen’s Maryland Affiliate. Breast Friends was created for women under 40 – women just like me! I didn’t even know there were other women under 40 with breast cancer! Breast Friends doesn’t just offer support; they also offer education. They were the first to say, “Bridget, you should tell your story. You should go to schools and tell your story. You could save some lives.” So, you see, Komen gave me support and Komen gave me a voice.
Komen’s impact on my journey didn’t stop there. In the past seven years, I have seen 12 different doctors about this cancer, and, while every doctor saw my concerns about having babies and getting married as understandable concerns for someone in her 20s, no doctor actually took those concerns to heart. No doctor, that is, until Dr. Ann Partridge at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Dr. Partridge never told me to “worry about that later” – she helped me take action to preserve my fertility and offered me a plan that worked around my wedding and honeymoon. She even worked with me to make sure my chemo medication wouldn’t cause hair loss, so I could look my best when I walked down the aisle. In fact, Dr. Ann Partridge’s Young Women’s Program was funded by a three-year $1.35 million Susan G. Komen for the Cure grant.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve tried to dedicate my life to raising awareness about breast health in young women because at the time of my diagnosis I was told by several medical professionals not to worry about the growing lump in my breast.
As treatments improve, more and more women and men are living very full lives while still fighting cancer. I hope I can give other metastatic cancer patients a voice! No other organization has had my back like Komen for the Cure, and now it’s time for me to return the favor. Together, we will move toward a cure. I believe we have already started moving, and I believe we are moving forward.
Guest blog post from Stephanie Birkey Reffey, Ph.D. – Director, Research Evaluation at Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Today is an important day for cancer research – the International Cancer Research Partnership (ICRP) released its inaugural Data Report. This report is the first international analysis of cancer research that is based on individual research projects and programs instead of aggregated or estimated figures. More than 50 cancer research funding organizations, including Susan G. Komen for the Cure, shared data with each other and worked together to create this report, and in so doing, created a powerful collaborative movement among cancer researchers.
The ICRP report represents the culmination of more than a decade of work. Prior to 2000, cancer research funding organizations were unable to compare their research activities with each other because there was no common language. However, in 2000, Komen joined nine other organizations at the inaugural meeting of what would ultimately become the ICRP. The intent of that first meeting was for participating organizations to work together to implement a system for classifying research grants so that they could compare and contrast their investments in cancer research with the goal of identifying what was being funded (and what wasn’t) so that funding organizations could work more efficiently and better fulfill the needs of the cancer research community.
At that first meeting, participating organizations agreed to adopt a classification system that had been developed by the National Cancer Institute and the Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs – the Common Scientific Outline (CSO). The CSO classifies research projects according to their area(s) of focus: (1) biology, (2) etiology (the causes of disease), (3) prevention, (4) early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, (5) treatment, (6) cancer control and survivorship, and (7) scientific model systems. The CSO also includes a standard cancer site coding scheme to identify which type(s) of cancer are being studied. By breaking down research projects into meaningful categories, the CSO enables any organization that uses it to compare and contrast its research with any other organization using the same system.
The ICRP report shows us that, in the years 2005 through 2008, the annual investment in cancer research by ICRP partners ranged from $4.6 to $4.8 billion per year. We can also see that in 2005, 19% of the total investment in cancer research went towards breast cancer ($905 million). By 2008, that number had increased to 20.6% ($996 million).
The report also shows the overall investment in cancer research by CSO category, and breaks it down by cancer site as well as individual partner organization. For example, the report shows that research focused on breast cancer during these years was distributed across all the CSO categories, with most breast cancer research addressing the basic biology of breast cancer (23%) and treatments for breast cancer (22%) and the least being directed at prevention strategies (6%) and scientific models (3%). When we look at Komen’s research portfolio, we can see that we also invested mostly in research focused on basic breast cancer biology during the reporting period (30-31%), but we show a statistically significant increase in research focused on the etiology (causes) of breast cancer (from 6.1% to 10.9%) from 2005 to 2008.
As Komen’s Director, Research Evaluation, I am responsible for the classification of Komen’s research portfolio using the CSO and for reporting on our investments in these and other topic areas. Thus, I have had the privilege of representing Komen on the ICRP since 2010 and have been honored to serve in the position of ICRP Chair for 2011 and 2012. As a participating member of this group, I have seen the power of this international collaboration and the intent of the Partners to collaborate with one another, share best practices in research management and administration, form collaborative partnerships, and strategically coordinate their investments in cancer research to maximize the impact of cancer research for all individuals affected by cancer around the world.