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  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 29, Crystal King

    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.

    CRYSTAL KING, Dallas, Texas – Breast Cancer Survivor, Advocate

    “My battle with breast cancer was overwhelming – but it also brought clarity to my life and what I wanted for my future.”

    “I share my story of survival with people, families, and others facing breast cancer. My hope is that my story will encourage, inspire, and help others who face breast cancer.”

    “I am passionate about helping women and showing them that there is life – and hope – after breast cancer.”

     

    On New Year’s Eve, 2003, I was on top of the world. The New Year brought both a wedding proposal and a great new job as a sales manager. Happy couldn’t describe my feelings at the time.  As the year progressed, things seemed to be going great, but then, October rolled around.

    My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer three years earlier, so I was very active during Breast Cancer Awareness Month throughout the years. But that October, during a checkup, my doctor noticed something different that she wanted to check out further, and scheduled a mammogram. The next three weeks were surreal and everything happened so fast. My mammogram led to a biopsy followed by a mastectomy. Throughout it all, my mother was there to support me. As a survivor she was privy to treatment and knew exactly what I was going through. And as my mother, she completely understood my needs and provided much-needed emotional support.

    When I first told my mother I was going to have a mammogram, she took a flight the next day to be by my side. She made the process a lot easier for me. She was there to walk me through the whole process. After my mastectomy, I began chemotherapy treatments. It was disheartening to my son, who was four years-old at the time, to see all the negative side effects of treatment – he didn’t handle it well at all.  At one point, he even began to pretend to vomit and imitate all of the side effects that he saw me experience as a result of the chemotherapy.

    My battle with breast cancer was overwhelming – I was in the midst of planning a wedding and of course, I was doing my best to ensure my son was comforted through it all. But, my battle with breast cancer also brought clarity to my life and what I wanted for my future. It gave me the confidence to try something new and to follow my passion to help others. In January of 2008, I quit my job. I began a new career in the nonprofit sector as the manager of multicultural marketing at Susan G. Komen for the Cure – a career that I’m passionate about – and it has been more than rewarding.

    In my other role as a Pink Together Survivor Ambassador at Komen, I help women – just like me – overcome their battles.  On a regular basis, I share my story of survival with people, families, and others facing this disease.  My hope is that my story will encourage, inspire, and help others.  I am passionate about helping women and showing them that there is life – and hope – after breast cancer. 

    Read other impact stories.

  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 28, Dr. Craig Jordan

    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.

    V. CRAIG JORDAN, OBE, PhD, DSc, FMedSci, WASHINGTON D.C. – Scientific Director, Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Georgetown University, Vice Chairman, Department of Oncology, Georgetown University Medical School Professor of Oncology and Pharmacology, Georgetown University Medical School; Visiting Professor of Molecular Medicine, University of Leeds, England; Komen Scholar

    “Because of Susan G. Komen, my work has advanced at a rapid rate so that we can take ideas from the laboratory to save lives around the world.”

    “Everything that I’ve done in ‘high risk’ has saved hundreds of thousands of women’s lives.”

     

    My relationship with Susan G. Komen for the Cure began more than 20 years ago with a research grant in 1990 – but my interest in cancer research started long before. My mother supported my passion in becoming a cancer research scientist at a very young age, allowing me to convert my bedroom into a chemistry laboratory. A lifelong pursuit of finding out how chemistry could help people would soon follow. As a young man studying pharmacology at the University of Leeds, I knew I wanted to develop drugs to be able to treat cancer. Everybody thought it was just a crazy idea!

    It turns out that my ideas weren’t crazy, though many of them were considered “high risk” at the time. Ultimately, everything I’ve done in high risk has saved hundreds of thousands of women’s lives. This includes transforming a failed contraceptive drug into the first effective targeted therapy for hormone sensitive breast cancer. Tamoxifen has become the gold standard for breast cancer treatment for more than 25 years now. Originally, it was discarded as an idea, as quite ridiculous, but we worked out the right way of using it. There are at least 20 generic versions of tamoxifen in use worldwide, so it’s difficult to figure out how many women are being helped by the drug, but it’s clear that millions of women have benefitted from tamoxifen with longer, healthier lives following a diagnosis of breast cancer.

    In addition to treating women already diagnosed with breast cancer, tamoxifen actually became the first chemo prevention drug. It was proven to reduce the risk of breast cancer incidence by approximately 50% in women at high risk for developing the disease.

    I’ve been fortunate to develop additional treatments that help women with breast cancer, which caught the eye of Susan G. Komen, who recognized the importance that funding plays with the advancement of breast cancer research. I was the inaugural recipient of Komen’s most prestigious award – the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction. I also serve on the Komen Scholars, a highly selective group of world leaders in breast cancer research whose work in the lab is supported by Komen and who are instrumental in reviewing grant applications, helping to choose the most important and impactful projects for funding.

    Being a part of the Komen Scholars has also allowed me to receive grants that support my ongoing research in tumor resistance to tamoxifen. While studying the behavior of estrogen, my team found that in some instances, estrogen actually stopped cancer, instead of causing it. Now I’m studying all of the pathways of estrogen, why it sometimes causes cancer growth and sometimes causes death of cancerous cells. I’m confident that if we can discover the death pathway, then we can use that as a new target for novel therapies in breast cancer and maybe cancers in general.

    Millions of women around the world could benefit from this research, and to think that my mother allowing me to turn my bedroom into a chemistry lab started it all.

    Read other impact stories.

  • 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.

    Read other impact stories.

  • 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.

    YouTube Preview Image

    Read other impact stories.


  • 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.