Guest post by Glendon Zinser, Ph.D., Komen Scientific Grants Manager
The last 30 years have brought about astounding changes in the way people look at, talk about, diagnose and treat breast cancer. The more than three million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. today are proof of how far we’ve come in both early detection and improved treatments. We know now that, just like the women and men it affects, breast cancer varies greatly from person to person, and therefore, breast cancer therapy is not a one-size- fits-all approach. Now, with more than $150 million invested into research focused on personalized medicine, Komen is proud to be a leader in this important area of discovery.
Today, we’re excited to share news of work led by a Komen-supported researcher, Dr. Aleix Prat, who is a pioneer in the field of personalized medicine. Dr. Prat is helping to ensure that all patients receive the very best treatment for their breast cancer and he is also helping healthcare providers better understand the unique properties of breast tumors.
Last year, Komen announced that Dr. Prat, Principal Investigator of the Translational Genomics Group at the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), would receive a Career Catalyst Research (CCR) Grant for $450,000 over three years to study HER2-positive breast cancer. CCR grants are awarded to promising early career scientists who have had extensive training in the field of breast cancer but who have only recently begun directing the research focus of their own laboratory. The CCR recipients’ hypothesis-driven research has significant potential to advance our mission of a world without breast cancer.
Dr. Prat’s CCR funded project focuses on HER2-positive breast cancer, which is a very aggressive type of cancer and it accounts for 15-20 percent of all diagnosed cases. With this CCR grant, coupled with previous research funded by Komen, Dr. Prat and his team have shown that 1) HER2-positive breast cancer can be classified as four different subtypes of breast cancer according to respective molecular characteristics and, 2) this sub-classification can help predict response to chemotherapy and anti-HER2 treatment, such as Herceptin (trastuzumab).
While this type of tumor profiling requires additional investigation before it becomes a clinical standard, the implications of this work for patients are extremely promising. In short – it means that physicians and oncologists will have access to essential information for determining the benefits of treatment, as well as a better understanding of both the short-term and long-term risks of breast cancer relapse. Oncologists will be able to better advise their patients about which anti-HER2 therapy, endocrine therapy, or chemotherapy may be the most beneficial for their individual breast cancer.
We look forward to many more important findings from Dr. Prat and our other Komen-funded researchers around the globe as we continue, together, towards our vision of a world without breast cancer.
The following blog written by Dr. Judy Salerno appeared in the September issue of Washington Life.
Here is a sobering fact: Washington, DC is the city with the highest incidence and mortality rates from breast cancer in the United States. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data for 2006-2010, breast cancer death rates are 40 percent higher than the national average in the National Capital Region—the District, Northern Virginia, and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties in Maryland.
And the situation for African American women in the region is alarming: the latest data show that breast cancer death rates for African American women here were 33.8 percent higher than Caucasian women, largely because African American women were almost 23 percent more likely to be diagnosed at late stages of the disease.
At Susan G. Komen we are determined to overcome these shocking disparities. In addition to the $23 million we’ve provided for breast cancer research at local institutions, we’ve also invested more than $35 million in programs that reach, educate, screen and provide assistance to the medically underserved and women of color, especially in Wards 7 and 8 in the District and in Prince George’s County.
In the DC region alone, Susan G. Komen paid for 18,000 screenings, assisted 6,000 women with services that helped them get treatment and follow-up care, and reached 190,000 women with breast health awareness and education programs in 2012 alone.
One of the education and outreach programs we are especially proud to support is DC Pink Divas. Since 2012, the volunteers of this unique program have reached 10,000 women in the Capital Region. This is a true “boots on the ground” effort, as volunteers go to neighborhoods, houses of worship, and places of employment to share information about breast health as well as cancer prevention and treatment.
As a former volunteer physician at clinics serving the medically vulnerable in the District, I know firsthand how important it is to reach, and treat, the most needy populations in our communities. Programs like the Pink Divas – and others funded by Komen — truly make a difference in outcomes for women facing cancer.
We will honor the work of DC Pink Divas and present awards to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and philanthropist David Rubenstein for their fight against breast cancer at the 5th annual Honoring the Promise gala, an evening of inspiration and entertainment, to be held in the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center on Thursday, September 18th.
I hope you can join us on the 18th—and in our work to overcome health disparities in the Washington, DC region. Full information on Honoring the Promise can be found at www.komen.org/honoringthepromise
Guest blog by WWE Diva, Lilian Garcia
WWE, SummerSlam and Los Angeles: what an awesome combination! It is an event I look forward to every year, to see the athleticism of our amazing WWE Superstars perform in the ring at Staples Center! This year it was also extremely special because of our involvement with the Susan G. Komen Los Angeles County “Worship in Pink” event which took place in Long Beach, CA, the day before SummerSlam.
When I arrived at the event and walked into the ballroom, the energy vibrating off the women in there almost knocked me over. Imagine a room full of smiling, happy, energetic ladies, all wearing beautiful pink outfits and knowing they were all there to celebrate survivors of breast cancer and also learn how to be volunteers in their communities. Everyone was full of life and purpose!
With me were my WWE Diva “sisters” Alicia Fox and Eva Marie, along with a little surprise I had in store for the ladies. The three of us walked around and greeted everyone, and then it was time for me to take the stage and speak about my personal connection with Susan G. Komen and the fight against breast cancer…my mother.
I told the story of my mother and her personal battle with breast cancer, and how her choice of getting yearly mammograms ultimately saved her life! One of her mammograms showed she had cancer, but because she caught it in time, she and her doctors were able to set a treatment plan in motion to cure her. We learned as a family what support really was, and rallied behind her. Fast-forward to today, and my mother is cancer -free!!
As I was telling my story, I could see the ladies on the edge of their seats, waiting to hear the outcome of my mom’s journey. When I told them that my mom has been cancer-free for 25 years, they erupted with cheers. You can only imagine what happened when I revealed my little secret: my mother was at the event with me! As I walked over and escorted her up to the front of the room, the women jumped up, gave her a standing ovation and burst out into joy! You could hear an uproar of excitement. It was almost as if they had known her all their lives. To top it off, it was my mother’s birthday that day, so as Alicia and Eva Marie brought up a cake, we all sang “Happy Birthday,” and she proceeded to blow out the two candles on top that read, ”25.” One for every year she has been cancer-free!
I don’t think I have to tell you what a special moment that was for me. To see how loving the women were towards my mom, applauding her courage to fight such a tough battle, was a tremendous gift.
In this life, we sometimes wonder why things happen to us and why we were chosen to go through certain battles. In that moment, as I saw the faces of all those women and the smile on my mom’s face, I knew it was because she was supposed to be able to share her story one day and be an inspiration to others. That day she touched everyone, especially me!
Thank you Susan G. Komen for everything you do, thank you to all the volunteers around the world, and thank you, WWE, for providing me with a global platform to share my passion to make a difference.
Post by Tauane Araujo Cruz – Regional Manager, Latin America – Global Strategy & Programs
Susan G. Komen has been supporting education programs focused on early detection of breast cancer in Brazil since 2007. In the last 3 years, as a result of a partnership with the Caterpillar Foundation, we have been able to expand our mission to include programs aimed at removing barriers to care for women in need as well as breast health education for health professionals.
On the evening of Monday, August 4, 2014, my colleague, Blanca Benaglio, and I travelled to the city of Piracicaba in Sao Paulo to celebrate the launch of a public awareness campaign led by well-respected local NGO Associacao Ilumina, and supported by Komen. The event was held at the auditorium of the Methodist University of Piracicaba, and was attended by approximately 350 people including the local community, health care providers, government officials and partners of Associacao Ilumina who are committed to increasing awareness in Piracicaba. Komen was invited to give a presentation on our global work – taking place in more than 30 countries – and our partnership with the Caterpillar Foundation which enables Komen to reach women throughout Latin America, including Brazil, Mexico and Panama.
Through Komen’s funding in Brazil, Associacao Ilumina will conduct a unique campaign directed at men. The campaign is entitled “Parceiros do Peito,”and will emphasize the concept of the male as an essential figure in the household. Men will be encouraged to actively discuss breast health and screening with the women they love. Along with the campaign title which stands for “Breast Partners” in English, is the slogan “Quem Ama Cuida!” indicating that if you love someone, you should take care of them.
To complement the campaign, Associacao Ilumina is seeking financial support from the local community to offer mammograms free of charge for those in need. An event hosted by Ilumina on August 5th allowed them to raise funds for 1,000 mammograms, and the organization plans to continue these efforts with the goal of providing 3,000 mammograms to women who may otherwise go unscreened.
As part of the launch activities, I also participated in an interview with local news outlet, UNIMEP TV, and was pleased to recognize the work of this outstanding partner.
We hope that through Associacao Ilumina’s success, the campaign model can be replicated in other areas of Brazil and across the globe.
Guest blog by Joseline Lopez, Komen Helpline Specialist
When Vivienne contacted the Susan G. Komen® Breast Care Helpline, giving up felt like her only option.
In April of 2014, Vivienne Randle received the daunting news that she had triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). After her bilateral mastectomy, Vivienne’s fears of the chemotherapy side effects, and not knowing what to ask her doctor, halted her decision-making process. Feeling stuck and unable to decide whether she should continue with treatment, she called the helpline.
Acknowledging her fears and addressing her anxiety made her feel at ease. We talked about chemotherapy, its’ side effects and what to expect –using one of Komen’s resources “Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Chemotherapy”.
As I went on, Vivienne’s tone of voice began to change, and she was no longer crying. As we continued to talk, she shared that she was also struggling with finances and a lack of emotional support. These factors contributed to her feeling alone during her breast cancer journey.
Thankfully, I was able to connect her with many resources, including the Co-Pay Assistance Fund through the Patient Advocate Foundation which Komen funds. I also referred her to an organization called CancerCare for emotional support. Vivienne felt relieved, and expressed her gratitude for being able to express herself to someone who compassionately listened to her situation. Vivienne then expressed her desire to, “reach through the phone and hug me.”
Upon hearing this comment, I felt a wave of happiness and joy come over me. I felt so proud and happy to be working on the helpline and that I was able to serve and connect with Vivienne. Working on the helpline can be challenging but challenges lead to priceless rewards and help strengthen us in ways that we had never imagined.
A week later, I made a follow-up call to Vivienne and she told me that she was able to make a treatment decision and also received financial assistance! She agreed to call us back if anything else came up and she continued to express her gratitude.
Vivienne’s experience is unique, yet in many ways similar to the experiences that other breast cancer survivors face. Being able to have an impact in the lives of men and women facing this disease is both an honor and pleasure.
The helpline is here to serve the breast cancer community by providing breast cancer information, financial resources, emotional support and sometimes just a listening ear.
If you have any questions about breast cancer, we encourage you to contact our breast care helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636). All calls to our breast care helpline are answered by a trained and caring staff Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET and from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. PT.
We are waiting for your call!