Guest blog from Kathi Ridley-Merriweather, Program Assistant, Susan G. Komen for the Cure® Tissue Bank at IU Simon Cancer Center
Thanks to a new $500,000 grant from Komen, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® Tissue Bank at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center is expanding its incredible work to Africa, looking for answers to an aggressive cancer that disproportionately strikes women of African descent.
The Komen Tissue Bank (KTB) is the world’s only biobank, collecting healthy, normal breast tissue which is then shared with researchers across the globe. Komen’s new half-million dollar grant sets the stage for the Tissue Bank to conduct a first-of-its-kind tissue collection in Kenya, gathering normal breast tissue (as well as matched serum, plasma and DNA) from 200 Kenyan donors. This tissue also will be available to researchers globally.
This is a very exciting step in our mission to find answers to the toughest questions that remain in breast cancer treatment and especially for triple negative breast cancer – an aggressive form of breast cancer that disproportionately affects women of African descent. There are no targeted treatments for triple negative breast cancer today, meaning women are much more likely to die of this form of the disease.
The Tissue Bank already includes donated tissue from American women of African descent. Gathering tissue samples directly from indigenous African women could be the critical next step in unlocking knowledge about this form of the disease and developing treatment strategies.
To collect these 200 samples, Komen Tissue Bank staff will travel twice to Kenya. The first trip, in early 2013, will allow bank staff to review potential sites for the collection and build relationships with key Kenyan medical leaders, laying the groundwork for the tissue collection to potentially take place in the summer of 2013. Also during this first trip, a handful of donors will be invited to give breast tissue as a pilot collection.
The actual large-scale collection is projected to take place over multiple days in the summer of 2013. Surgeons, lab technicians, and other individuals will be on site to help all donors and ensure the process runs smoothly. A select group of surgeons and skilled volunteers will travel from Indianapolis to Kenya with the KTB, with most paying much or all of their own way. A significant portion of the effort, however, will be undertaken by Kenyans.
The Tissue Bank opened in 2007 with a $1 million Komen grant; Komen’s investment since then has grown to $7 million!
Komen Races across the country closed National Breast Cancer Awareness Month with a bang. From Tupelo to Texas, survivors and supporters gathered in their pink to support their local Affiliates.
Despite bad weather, over 26,000 people gathered at the 4th annual Greater Nashville Race in Brentwood, TN. Over 500 survivors lead a parade of pink through the city to the start line. Representatives from the Tennessee Titans, country music stars, NASCAR drivers and government officials took part in the day’s activities. A few local celebrities set up Sleep In for the Cure teams, raising over $12,000 without even getting out of bed! The Tennessean covers the event.
Teams were the theme at the Iowa Race for the Cure on Saturday, Oct. 27. The Team t-shirt contest raised almost $2,000, and the Affiliate showcased the top 5 fundraising teams with special, prominently placed tents in the Expo area which the teams were able to decorate. Passers-by stopped and thank the teams for the work they did on behalf of Komen! A fun time was had by all on the Capitol grounds.
It may have been cold, but the sun was shining on the over 14,000 participants who gathered in Germantown, TN, for the Memphis-MidSouth Affiliate’s 20th Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Rather than one Honorary Chair, Komen Memphis-MidSouth recognized 20 local individuals who represent the face of breast cancer in the Mid-South. Alexis Grace, former American Idol contestant, and The Bouffants entertained the sea of pink along with WREG anchors and FM100′s Ron Olson who was emceeing his 20th Race. The Commercial Appeal shares more highlights from the morning.
The 13th annual NC Foothills Race on Saturday, October 27 was a great success! While all the statistics are not in yet, the Race saw a record number of participants with over 2,800 registered walkers and runners. Thanks to all of the participants, and the incredible teams who registered, the Race has raised over $175,000 so far – another exciting record!
The 16th annual Knoxville Race brought together thousands of Komen supporters and breast cancer survivors. The event, which is estimated to have raised more than $900,000, flooded downtown Knoxville with pink shirts, wigs, tutus and other accessories on the more than 10,000 participants. Survivor Amanda McAmis, who was diagnosed with the disease when she was 29, shares her battle with Knox News, and Jennifer Blevins, who received financial support from Komen Knoxville while she faced the disease, shares her story with WBIR.
Almost 3,000 participants gathered for the Central Georgia Race, including over 350 survivors. Race participants really enjoyed the new venue and course. Held in Byron, GA, for the first time, the Affiliate was excited to see strong support from residents along the course who decorated mail boxes and were cheering the runners on. The weather was perfect, and the Race committee is already looking forward to planning next year’s Race!
Nearly 20,000 braved the cold in Oklahoma City for the 19th annual Oklahoma City Race. The runners, however, were quick to point out that the cold was nothing compared to what breast cancer survivors have been through. There were many men among those who laced up their sneakers that weekend, and local physician Dr. Pant shares with OKC Fox 25 how critical it is for both men and women to be aware of their risk for breast cancer.
Hundreds of survivors and supporters gathered at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, LA, on Saturday Oct. 27 for the Bayou Region Race. Daily Comet talked with several survivors about the importance of this event.
Kicking off the North Mississippi Race in Tupelo, MS, organizers held the 15th annual survivor luncheon on Thursday, Oct. 25 – two days before the Race. The survivors’ lunch has been a tradition for friends and six-year breast cancer survivors Wanda Sullivan and Cindy Layman, who graduated high school together and work together at Itawamaba Community College-Tupelo. DJournal.com tells their story. The Race that weekend raised more than $43,000, and fundraising is still going on! WTVA shares more about the event.
Austin and San Diego rounded out the year of Races the following weekend on Nov. 4! In Austin, nearly 15,000 people came out in their pink for the Race, raising about $373,000. The Austin American Statesman shares more from the event.
The 16th annual San Diego Race was a great success as well! Over 13,000 people registered to come out to Balboa Park and support local community programs. Executive Director Laura Farmer shared that while it’s been a tough year, the San Diego Affiliate focused on returning to their grass roots. “We energized our base, and all of that hard work culminated in the beautiful Race. It was a tremendous accomplishment on a sunny, November day.” FOX 5 San Diego shares highlights from the event.
We want to thank every participant, volunteer, sponsor and every other individual who made the 2012 Race series possible. Your incredible support makes a huge impact in your local community, and we can’t wait to come back and Race with you again next year! Until then, be sure to visit komen.org and keep reading our blog to stay caught up on our work and the many ways you can continue to support the fight against breast cancer.
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.
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.
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.
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.