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  • HER2-Positive Diagnosis on “Parenthood”

    Guest blog post from Susan Brown, Managing Director, Community Health of Susan G. Komen for the Cure

    Last month, we applauded NBC’s “Parenthood” for portraying the difficult realities of a breast cancer diagnosis through one of its main characters, Kristina Braverman, played by Monica Potter. Recently, Kristina found out that she has HER2-positive breast cancer, a more aggressive form of the disease which accounts for about 15 to 20 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses. HER2/neu, also called ErbB2, is a protein that appears on the surface of some breast cancer cells and is an important part of the pathway for cell growth and survival.

    Although breast cancer is often referred to as one disease, thanks to research over the last thirty years, today we know that there are actually many different types of breast cancer.

    All breast cancers start in the breast – which makes them alike in some ways – but they are different in others. For instance, they can be invasive or non-invasive, and the tumor cells can vary in location and how they look under a microscope. The type of breast cancer you have often affects your prognosis.

    Tumors also have characteristics, such as hormone receptor status and HER2/neu status. By knowing her HER2/neu status, Kristina and her doctors can decide on the right treatment, instead of a “one-treatment-fits-all” approach. Today, HER2/neu-positive breast cancers can benefit from the drug trastuzumab (Herceptin), which directly targets the HER2/neu receptor.

    Breast cancer is not an easy journey, for those diagnosed or loved ones who are trying to provide support. We encourage you to check out our resources for helping you understand breast cancer and learn more about different tumor characteristics. Here at Komen, we are continuing to watch “Parenthood” to see how Kristina’s story plays out and would love to hear your thoughts on the storyline as well.

  • Affliate Spotlight: Komen West Virginia Rocks a Local Hospital

    There are countless ways that Komen Affiliates across the country make an impact in the lives of local women and men every single day. For some, it’s access to free breast screenings. For others, it may be transportation to and from treatment, a wig, or other support services – all provided by local community grants. For Komen West Virginia, an excerpt from Komen founder and CEO Nancy G. Brinker’s book Promise Me, combined with the passion of two artists, resulted in a project that totally rocked a local hospital.

    In Promise Me, Brinker described the long hours Susan G. Komen spent in the cancer wards while battling breast cancer. Suzy wished that there was a way to make the chemo wards less depressing and instead, fill them with things to remind those inside how wonderful the world is outside of the treatment rooms. And while she was never able to fulfill her desire, artists Amy Ocasio and Nancy Ballard, along with the help of nearly the entire community of Parkersburg, WV, made this dream a reality at Camden Clark Medical Center.

    Through support from the Camden Clark Foundation, Komen West Virginia and Whimsical Spirits of Whim-en, the Rooms that Rock 4 Chemo project got underway on Sep. 14. Working only during the nighttime hours, Amy, Nancy and other artists took the dreary and bare chemo rooms and got to work, painting themed designs in each room such as Paris, butterflies and dogs. Komen West Virginia joined in on the fun as well, decking out one special room in Ford Warriors in Pink scarves, representing the powerful and courageous who fight against cancer.

    The unit administers nearly 5,000 chemotherapy treatments each year and sees about 120 patients a week, one of whom is patient Julie Gray Dye. Julie expressed her appreciation for the work of all of the volunteers, saying “Before Rooms that Rock 4 Chemo, the rooms were cold and sterile, and six hours staring at hospital walls seemed like an eternity. The teams have truly changed the experience for patients like me.”

    Many of the volunteers, like Sharyn and Jon from “Team Fuzzy Friends,” shared their passion for this project as well. Jon was inspired by his father’s journey battling cancer to do his “little part to make it a little easier for the patients.” Sharyn was very excited to join the project as well, saying that Rooms that Rock became her way of showing love and support for the patients that would receive treatments in the very rooms they were painting.

    As the artists transformed the nine treatment rooms and one conference room, local hospital officials were so impressed, they decided to approve more funding for the project, making it possible to renovate the entire 5,000 sq. ft. chemo unit. One of the medical center’s oncologists, Dr. Nik Shah, shared how touched patients and their families are by the new surroundings. “Many of the patients and families have expressed how beautiful the unit looks and really appreciate what the community has done… Not only are the patients happy, the office staff has tremendously enjoyed the work environment. It really makes our day a lot brighter.”

    On Oct. 20, the new ward was officially complete, and volunteers, hospital workers and sponsors were excited to present the newly decorated ward to the public. With donated artwork lining the walls, including a hand-stitched Ford Warriors in Pink quilt created by Komen West Virginia Race for the Cure survivors, the ward now offers a completely different atmosphere – one of hope – for patients and their loved ones.

    Our hats are off to Komen West Virginia and every other organization and volunteer that made this project possible. And this story is just one of many that tell of the amazing work Komen Affiliates, so keep reading Komen’s blog and see how your local Affiliate is making an impact in the fight against breast cancer.

    Check out the before and after pictures of the rooms  in our slideshow below.

  • Remembering Suzy and the last 30 Years of Progress

    Today would have been my Aunt Suzy’s 69th birthday.  Aunt Suzy – Susan G. Komen – was born on Oct. 31, 1943 and died in August of 1980 at the age of 36, after 3 grueling years suffering from breast cancer.  Before she died, she asked my mother, Nancy Brinker, to do something about breast cancer, so that no one would suffer as she and the women she met were suffering.  Mom, of course, promised that she would, and 2 years later, Mom started Susan G. Komen in her sister’s memory, so that no one would ever forget the sister she loved and missed.

    I was a very young kid when Mom and her friends set out in our living room to fulfill this promise, and I can remember the hushed conversations about women being afraid or ashamed to admit they had the disease.  At that time, cancer in general, and breast cancer in particular, were never discussed.  I remember people calling it “The Big C,” and I remember the doors slammed in Mom’s face when she set out to raise money for this cause.  No one wanted to be associated with such a personal “woman’s disease.”

    I thought of all this as I stood in an arena in Charlotte, N.C., just this past week, accepting a very generous donation from WWE Superstar John Cena, in front of thousands of screaming fans.  I was especially moved by the breast cancer survivors in the audience, wearing pink survivor tee-shirts with pride, holding up signs that proclaimed their status and hope to the world.

    And even through the din of that arena, I had a moment of quiet reflection about how much has changed since the days of the hushed conversation. I thought of how proud Aunt Suzy would have been to see this – to know that her suffering had not been in vain, and that because of this promise between my mother and her, millions of women and men are facing a very different world today than the Suzy’s of the world faced 35 years ago.

    Today, largely due to the work of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, more women are living longer even with aggressive and metastatic forms of breast cancer.  We have virtually cured early stage breast cancer, with relative five-year survival rates of 99% today versus 74% when we started.  We’re hard at work funding hundreds of active research grants around the world as I write this, striving to understand the key questions in breast cancer science today: how to keep breast cancer from developing, stop it before it spreads, and cure the aggressive and metastatic cancers that are killing too many women and men.

    Very importantly, we’ve been the helping hand that has truly made a difference in the lives of women who hear the diagnosis and need our help, especially the low-income and uninsured women whose breast cancer journeys are made more difficult by a lack of insurance and a lack of resources.  Komen and our Affiliates pay for the mammograms they can’t afford (700,000 last year alone).  We provide the co-pays; we pay for surgeries; we pay for groceries and living expenses, wigs, prosthetics, and transportation to treatment.  We help with their follow-up care, every day.

    Every time I meet someone with 5, 10, 15 or 20 years cancer-free, I marvel at how much has been made possible by this movement, thanks to the generous support of the people who run in our Komen Races, volunteer at our Affiliates, hold the fundraisers, organize the bake sales at work, or otherwise support this cause.  Thanks to all of you, Komen alone has been able to invest more than $2 billion to research and community outreach, and our movement has grown to more than 30 countries around the world.  We’ve come a very long way in just one generation.

    It goes without saying that Aunt Suzy would be proud.  I know, on her 69th birthday, that she would be overwhelmed with gratitude.  And so on her behalf, and on behalf of all of us at Susan G. Komen, let me say “Thank you” for all that you do to create a world without this disease.  I only wish – as any of us who have lost someone to breast cancer would wish — that Aunt Suzy were here to see it.

  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 31, Lisa Carey

    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.

    LISA A. CAREY, MD, CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA – Physician and Researcher
    The Richardson and Marilyn Jacobs Preyer Distinguished Professor in Breast Cancer Research; Chief, Division of Hematology and Oncology; Physician-in-Chief North Carolina Cancer Hospital; Medical Director of the UNC Breast Center; Associate Director for Clinical Research; UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center

    “Funding from Susan G. Komen has yielded an incredible wealth of information that helps us, the clinicians, understand breast cancer behavior better and, we hope, improve our ability to tailor treatments appropriately.”

    “As a researcher and doctor, I am thrilled that our work looking for ways to identify and study different subtypes of breast cancer is already benefiting our patients. Our next challenges are to identify tumor characteristics that predict response to therapy and develop novel treatment approaches for the subtypes we have identified.”


    My focus – as a researcher and doctor – is to improve the lives of breast cancer patients. My work with colleagues has led to the understanding that women do just as well if their chemotherapy is given before surgery as after. It’s scientific advances like these that inspire me – we will be able to use molecular science to improve the lives of mothers, grandmothers, fathers, and other loved ones.

    When I was an undergraduate at Wellesley College, my honors thesis project was to develop a mask that would allow workers in freezing temperatures to save water from their exhalations.  My friends would avoid me on Sundays, when I had access to the dormitory walk-in freezer, because they were my guinea pigs.  After college, my training included a medical degree, then Internal Medicine Residency followed by a Medical Oncology fellowship, all at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

    I earned an advanced degree in Clinical Investigations at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in 1998 and then joined the UNC faculty rising from assistant to full professor.  During my training, I continued my research efforts, first in limb injuries, then in infectious diseases like AIDS.  I decided to become an oncologist during my second year of residency when I spent Christmas week on the inpatient Oncology ward – a truly inspiring experience and one that confirmed for me that I wanted to take care of cancer patients.

    Since joining the faculty at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, I have spent a lot of time with scientists spending all of their time trying to understand the variations within breast cancer – why do some behave more aggressively than others, why do some relapse and others not?  The most useful work I do is trying to extend their findings – understanding and characterizing the molecular subtypes of breast cancer to the clinic so that we may develop better prevention and treatment strategies. I was fortunate enough to lead the first trial looking at a new drug regimen in the breast cancer subtype, triple negative breast cancer.

    But ever since I’ve joined this field, I’ve understood that this kind of research doesn’t fund itself. Organizations like Susan G. Komen carefully examine the work that various researchers are doing that will eventually save lives and impact women around the world.

    For example, in part based upon work performed at UNC, we now know that women do just as well if their chemotherapy is given before surgery as after, however the chemotherapy-first approach means that they are more likely to save their breast. In addition, with preoperative therapy it is possible to tell if the drugs are working since the tumor is still measurable when the chemotherapy is given first. Part of my clinical research program uses this preoperative approach in order to investigate new drugs and combinations of drugs as well as factors that might predict response to these drugs.

    And just this year, Komen awarded me a grant of nearly $1 million to profile the kinome (a group of hundreds of proteins that regulate cancer cell growth) in HER2+ breast cancer, specifically to look at how the cancer cells try to evade HER2-targeted therapy.

    I hope that future grants will enable researchers like me to design and lead clinical trials testing novel ways to better treat breast cancer. Only with the kind of funding that Komen provides will we be able to use molecular science to improve the lives of our patients.

    Read other impact stories.

  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 30, Dr. Trey Westbrook

    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. THOMAS “TREY” WESTBOOK, HOUSTON, TEXAS – Scientific Researcher

    “Watching someone you care about deeply go through the heartache of struggling with breast cancer is an immediate and daily reminder of the urgency to find a cure.”

    “My research team at Baylor College of Medicine has been using new technology to discover the genes breast cancer cells depend on, and translating these discoveries into new therapies.”

    “Thanks to Komen research grants, my colleagues and I – and researchers around the world – will continue to uncover new therapeutic opportunities for women fighting breast cancer.”

    For me, cancer research is both a professional and personal passion. Watching someone you care about deeply go through the heartache of struggling with breast cancer is an immediate and daily reminder of the urgency to find a cure. I’ve experienced that first hand. Much of my family had to go through the trials of fighting cancer, and I have known for a long time that I wanted to address the fundamental problems in cancer – to take what we can learn about cancer and use this knowledge to help people.

    I’m a geneticist – and most of my Komen-funded research is focused on applying novel genetic technologies that we developed to find new treatments for human breast cancer. Our new technology, sometimes called a functional genomics technology, enables us to scan the human genome for genes that play a role in cancer. We’re using these new tools to identify vulnerabilities of cancer cells and find ways to exploit them. Strikingly, some of our newest therapeutic targets are lethal only to cancer cells, while healthy, non-cancerous cells are spared.

    With Komen-funded support, we’ve discovered that the very genes that are driving cancer are also creating new vulnerabilities. Our work is focused on finding and better understanding those weaknesses and turning those weaknesses into new medicines. Our work has inspired a new clinical trial for triple-negative breast cancer patients. Collaborating with our partners in the pharmaceutical industry, we are striving each day to ensure our discoveries are turned into real medicine.

    I am grateful to Susan G. Komen for the Cure for funding my work. I’ve received $450,000 in Komen funding over the past 3 years to find new therapeutic strategies for triple-negative breast cancer. In 2011, we received a $180,000 grant for my research focused on HER2-positive cancer. Thanks to Komen research grants, my colleagues and I – and researchers around the world – can continue to discover new targeted therapies in order to help men and women defeat breast cancer. There’s a lot more research to be done and as someone with loved ones fighting cancer, my mission is to continue to work passionately towards finding a cure.

    Read other impact stories.