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  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 27, Dr. Kristi Egland

    The story of breast cancer is the story of people. Learn about Komen’s impact and work in the fight against breast cancer as told through the eyes of breast cancer survivors, researchers, community health workers and advocates. Read more stories.

    DR. KRISTI EGLAND, SIOUX FALLS, SD – BREAST CANCER SCIENTIST AND SURVIVOR

    “We know a lot about breast cancer, but a lot is to be learned. Susan G. Komen is providing us with funding to pursue research that is saving lives.”

    “My breast cancer journey has only ignited my research and empowered me to keep fighting on behalf of all the women facing breast cancer in their lives now.”

    I knew breast cancer before it knew me, before it put my life on hold and made me feel like I was the most vulnerable human being in the world. I’m a research scientist and I study the genetics of breast cancer – I’m an associate scientist at the Cancer Biology Research Center at Sanford Research and assistant professor in the Department of OB/GYN at the University of South Dakota – I know breast cancer really well.

    Diagnosed at age 37 with no history of breast cancer in my family, you can imagine the incredible shock I felt, especially with a diagnosis of triple negative invasive breast cancer with lymph node involvement. This was not early stage, and I was definitely not prepared – I did not even know how to react when I saw the tumor on the screen; I felt devoid of any emotion, empty. But I stuck to what I knew: science. My doctor advised I move forward with a double mastectomy, which was then followed by eight rounds of chemotherapy and 33 radiation treatments.

    Although I was scared, I found courage and hope in my family – I needed to see my kids grow up; I needed to see graduations, weddings and meet my grandchildren. This hope is what got me through my treatments.

    I started studying breast cancer in 2000 at the National Institutes of Health, and currently the focus of my research is on new targets for therapy, as well as a diagnostic blood test. I am the recipient of a Susan G. Komen for the Cure Career Catalyst grant and am very grateful for Komen’s funding. This grant has allowed me to apply what I learned as a breast cancer patient back to my own research.

    I see breast cancer through a different lens now, and I would love to see a research scientist included in the process of treating a patient – the knowledge they can provide to help direct and personalize treatments is invaluable. I donated my own tissue to my research institution as part of Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Research, and I would like to encourage women to donate both their cancerous and healthy breast tissue to research because these tissues can help us find the next breakthrough. Learn how to donate breast tissue.

    I am very fortunate to have been able to overcome my battle with breast cancer, and each and every day I am thankful to be here. The journey has empowered me to be as aggressive in my breast cancer research as my breast cancer was with me.

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  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 26, Dr. Ana Maria Gonzalez-Angulo

    The story of breast cancer is the story of people. Learn about Komen’s impact and work in the fight against breast cancer as told through the eyes of breast cancer survivors, researchers, community health workers and advocates. Read more stories.

    ANA MARIA GONZALEZ-ANGULO, MD, HOUSTON, TEXAS – Doctor and Researcher

    “I am a doctor and an expert on breast cancer, but that doesn’t mean I can provide treatment to everyone – that reality is especially hard when it’s a member of your own family.”

    “I’ve been on both sides of the table: as a doctor and as a family member of a loved one who was diagnosed with cancer.”

    “This specific testing is expensive, and often not covered in this setting it, so Komen’s funding was extremely important for those women who would have otherwise not being able to participate in our clinical.”

    There’s a significant history of cancer in my family – and that has given me a different perspective and a deeper understanding as a doctor. I’ve been on both sides of the table: as a doctor and as a family member of a loved one who was diagnosed with advanced disease. That experience has made me extremely sympathetic to patients because I know how difficult it is to see your family member going through surgery and chemotherapy. I also know what it feels like to go through the pain of feeling helpless when treatment is unavailable. I am a doctor and an expert on breast cancer, but that doesn’t mean I can provide treatment to everyone – that reality is especially hard when it’s a member of your own family.

    Although I first thought I was going to focus in lung cancer, during fellowship realized that I wanted to focus on breast cancer. When I was initially making that change, I was lucky enough to have a conversation with one of the most renowned breast cancer experts, Dr. Gabriel Hortobagyi, the chair of the department of breast medical oncology and director of the Breast Cancer Research Program at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He was the one who encouraged me to apply for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Fellowship at M.D. Anderson. Once I was accepted as a fellow, the rest is history. I fell in love with the work and have been at M.D. Anderson ever since – a total of 8 years in faculty.

    The Komen fellowship was an extraordinary experience. It was multidisciplinary, hands-on and allowed me to work across the board –surgery, pathology, radiation. I was able to scrubb in into the operating room. The fellowship provided a broad scope and helped me truly understand the multidisciplinary care needed to treat breast cancer and how to facilitate it.

    My work with Komen didn’t end after my fellowship. I received a Komen grant, and currently I serve as a Komen Scholar. Komen has provided funding for a clinical trial I lead that assists to support the molecular testing that screen patients for the study. The clinical trial called RxPONDER will help determine if that testing can be used to identify women with node-positive breast cancer who could forgo chemotherapy. Komen’s funding was extremely important for those women who would have not being able to participate in our clinical trial. I’m happy that I’m able to bring drugs and personalized therapy to patients in need. As a doctor, and as a family member, I’m also incredibly grateful to Komen for its work toward finding a cure.

    Watch a “day in the life” of Dr. Gonzales-Angulo and learn more about her important research.

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  • Komen Advocates In Science ASCO Attendance

    Guest blog from Komen Advocates In Science: Karen Durham, Mary Elliott, Cheryl Jernigan, Sandy Finestone, & Kimberly Wright…with a special thank you to Elda Railey, Research Advocacy Network, for her thoughtful edits.

    Only 4 out of 100 breast cancer patients get an absolute benefit from chemotherapy.

    Shocked?  That was certainly the reaction of the Komen Advocates in Science (AIS) members who participated in this year’s research advocate training sponsored by Susan G. Komen for the Cure® and conducted by the Research Advocacy Network during the 2012 American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) Breast Cancer Symposium last month.

    No, that doesn’t mean the other 96 women receive no benefit from chemotherapy.   Some receive no benefit, others receive a very high benefit, and most fall somewhere in between.  But, how does one know where they lie on the spectrum of therapy benefit?

    First, AIS participants took a field trip to Genomic Health to learn more about the “promise of genomics” and how it can and is “changing the practice of medicine…one patient at a time.”  Genomic Health developed a genomic assay for breast cancer that can assist in determining whether a patient will benefit from adding chemotherapy to their treatment and the likelihood that early-stage breast cancer will recur. Imagine having quantitative information based on your own tumor that you and your physician will use to determine which treatment is best for you–instead of based on the average of patients with similar factors as you.

    At the ASCO Symposium, an overarching theme was “more is not necessarily better” and genomics was a common thread throughout the presentations.  This move toward personalized medicine will spare many women from the toxic side effects of cancer drugs that offer them little benefit.  However, it was noted that imaging techniques still seem to apply a “one size fits all” approach.  Future advances may well lie in designing new imaging sequences and selective imaging based on tumor biology.

    Dr. Monica Morrow, from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, noted that since 1980, patients and doctors have believed that removing a little larger area around the tumor and removing additional lymph nodes would lead to a reduction of local recurrence. Now, we are discovering this does not improve outcomes when a patient is low risk (ER+, PR+, HER2-) or higher risk triple negative (ER-, PR-, HER2-).  More surgery is not necessarily better. Yet patients often still opt for “more” because they still believe it is better…be it surgery or drug therapy.  Advocates can help create a better understanding of what research has already demonstrated to be effective and the risks of overtreatment.

    For those with advanced cancer, the promise of genomics hasn’t made significant inroads yet.  While there are a number of new systemic therapies in clinical trials, we don’t yet know who might benefit most from the treatment.  As advocates, we must continue to ask the questions and demand clinical trials that not only provide new therapies, but also the biomarkers to indicate who will benefit (based on tumor biology) from them.

    All the research in the world will not cure cancer or prevent deaths if people don’t have access to information, or the prevention, diagnosis or treatment strategies discovered. Otis Brawley, MD, from American Cancer Society, spoke of inequities within our society and healthcare system that lead to 6,000 avoidable deaths each year. This statistic reinforces what we already know–that community grants and programs funded by Komen Affiliates remain crucial to patients and their families across the nation to get the information and access to screening and treatment that they need to fight breast cancer.

    The experience gave all the opportunity to learn more about:

    • New and emerging evidence-based treatments;
    • Genomic assays used to better tailor treatment decisions;
    • Promising research that could tailor care and substantially impact practice, including survivorship care;
    • Issues impacting equitable access and health disparities; and
    • Controversies in current treatment protocols and practice. 

    This training gave us the opportunity to establish and strengthen networks with fellow advocates, researchers, and clinicians.  While we may have left the meeting physically tired, we left with more enlightened and energized spirits to forge ahead in our efforts to put an end to this disease which knows no barrier. For more information about AIS and to access the online application, go to www.komen.org/ais.

    Photographs courtesy of Genomic Health. AIS Members participated in Komen Funded Training at Genomic Health during the American Society of Clinical Oncology Breast Health Symposium September, 2012.


  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 25, Laura Farmer Sherman

    The story of breast cancer is the story of people. Learn about Komen’s impact and work in the fight against breast cancer as told through the eyes of breast cancer survivors, researchers, community health workers and advocates. Read more stories.

     

    LAURA FARMER SHERMAN, SAN DIEGO – Breast Cancer Survivor and Advocate

    “A grief counselor had me write my obituary as the person I was, and then a second obituary for the person I wanted to be. The ‘other person’ became my reason for living.”

    “As an Executive Director of one of Komen’s Affiliates, I’m most proud of the relationships we’ve developed in the community, bringing a wide range of partners together to help fund support for research – and to help those women and men in San Diego County who are literally choosing between whether they can put food on the table, or pay for a lifesaving mammogram.”

    I honestly couldn’t believe the diagnosis. I hadn’t been sick a day in my life. And I struggled against the reality of what I considered a death sentence. I didn’t know much about cancer – I honestly thought you had to have it in your family to get it. Now I know of course that’s not true. I found that out quickly along with a hundred other facts that made me a “likely candidate” to get breast cancer: my period started early in my life. I didn’t have children. I led a very stressful life.

    I was diagnosed on a Wednesday. On that Friday I was having a mastectomy. When I woke up, I learned that 15 lymph nodes were “taken” and that four had evidence of cancer. My path was now clear. Heal from the surgery. Start very aggressive chemotherapy followed by radiation. I found as the days turned into weeks, I was having trouble “getting up” the will to fight. A grief counselor changed all that when she had me write my obituary as the person I was, and then a second obituary for the person I wanted to be. The “other person” became my reason for living. I wanted to live so that I could be a better friend, a better sister, a better aunt, a more compassionate person. Notice I didn’t say “a better worker.” The old adage is true. No one on their death beds ever wishes they had spent more time at work. Why did it take a cancer diagnosis to wake me up to that reality?

    My friends and family – when they heard the news – were shocked and all reacted in different ways. The people I thought “would be there” weren’t.  Some of the people who actually turned out to “be there” were surprising to me.  One of the sweetest things that happened was that my dear friend’s little girl – when she knew that I would lose my hair – shaved all of her Barbie’s heads so that I “wouldn’t feel alone.” And I’ll never forget her saying: “Mommy says that Barbie’s hair won’t grow back – but yours will.”

    I decided to turn over my business career and instead focus on helping others with breast cancer. I started volunteering for my local Susan G. Komen Affiliate in San Diego. I started to spend so much time living the Komen mission – empowering women, ensuring quality care for all, and energizing science to find the cures – I eventually became the Executive Director for the Affiliate in 2007. I’m most proud of the relationships we’ve developed in the community, bringing a wide range of partners together to help fund support for research – and to help those women and men in San Diego County who are literally choosing between whether they can put food on the table, or pay for a lifesaving mammogram.

    Breast cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me. For every “bad” thing that happens in our lives – look for the “yes.” Everything that happens has a gift. The trick is to be open to finding it. Breast cancer allowed me to change my life completely. I quit my job. I found out what I really wanted to do. And now I’m doing it. When you face death – you can face anything. Nothing frightens me anymore. No one can ever hold me back. Cancer taught me that. And I am grateful.

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  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 24, Agueda Fernandez-Webster

    he story of breast cancer is the story of people. Learn about Komen’s impact and work in the fight against breast cancer as told through the eyes of breast cancer survivors, researchers, community health workers and advocates. Read more stories.

    AGUEDA FERNANDEZ-WEBSTER, SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – Latina Breast Health Navigator

    “After so many tears, so many CT scans, MRIs; there was no way I was leaving Norma by herself.”

    “All of us have certain patients that strike a chord and remind us of our mission and the truly important things in life.”

    “My experience with Norma remains a constant reminder of the many more women out there simply awaiting a companion during difficult times.”

    As a Latina Breast Health Navigator with the Franciscan Foundation, a Komen Puget Sound Grantee, I have educated, loved, and supported many women over the years. Yet all of us have certain patients that strike a chord and remind us of our mission and the truly important things in life. For me, that patient was Norma Solis, a woman who recently passed away from breast cancer, but not before opening my eyes to how often I take many things for granted. I felt a strong connection to Norma from the start and was constantly by her side, giving her support during the worst times of her breast cancer treatment. Without any friends and family close enough to help, Norma needed me to ensure she made her appointments, monitor her medicine, and speak up for her as an interpreter to make sure people knew her wishes.

    On May 24, 2012, Norma received her last chemotherapy (her decision) and voiced the desire to return home to Guatemala to spend her last days with her family. During one of her last chemo sessions, I sensed something was on Norma’s mind and sure enough, she soon began to bombard me with question after question about planning for her trip home and I realized she had never been in an airplane, or even been to an airport for that matter. Listening to her nervously anticipate how she would handle everything on her own I made up my mind and immediately reached out to  Komen Puget Sound to help fund two plane tickets for both Norma and myself. After numerous chemo sessions, multiple doctor’s appointments, countless times sitting with her waiting for her to be picked up and so many tears, there was absolutely no way I could I leave her by herself.  I just did not have the guts or the desire to do so.

    Komen Puget Sound connected with KUNS TV, Seattle’s Univision affiliate. Univision did a special on-air fundraising broadcast for Norma featuring News Anchor Teresa Gonzalez, who interviewed me and Norma. This drive successfully raised needed funds to support Norma and her family. Norma made it safely home to Guatemala with me unwaveringly by her side. Norma died on July 30, 2012 in her own home, surrounded by her loved ones.

    My experience with Norma remains a constant reminder of the numerous women out there simply awaiting a companion during difficult times – someone who can be there by their side and help them get through what life throws their way. It is my promise to Norma and the many more women I will be fortunate enough to meet throughout my career, that I will be that someone.

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