Survivor Offers Words of Hope to Senator McCain

Dragon Master Foundation

electioncancergraphic

This post is a guest post by Alexander Moore. Graphic created by Laurel Jackson.

It saddened me deeply  to hear that American hero John McCain was diagnosed with Glioblastoma or GBM, the most common and most malignant of brain tumors. It is simply not fair for someone who has already suffered the unimaginable horrors of war and captivity to now have to endure the pain of Brain Cancer. Senator McCain will be 1 of nearly 24,000 people diagnosed with primary brain cancer this year in the U.S. Not a lot in the grand scheme, but for almost 24,000 people and their families, it’s devastating. The median survival is 16 months and the effects of the disease and treatment deeply impact quality of life.

Senator McCain has already had surgery to have as much of the tumor removed as possible, but he will most likely go through a treatment regimen which combines radiation and an oral form of chemotherapy. For most who suffer from GBM, treatment only really prolongs life because the tumor is almost guaranteed to grow back even after chemotherapy and radiation. Through the next few weeks, the McCain family will learn all about Brain Cancer and the devastating effects it has on those who have to endure it, just like another political powerhouse family, the Bidens did a couple years ago.

Former Vice President Biden lost his son Beau to Brain Cancer in 2015, and since then has made it his mission to radically change the way that cancer research and treatments are done with the Cancer Moonshot initiative. The Cancer Moonshot initiative has been a point we can all rally around, and hopefully, these additional efforts will speed new treatments for patients everywhere. 

There are big changes happening in cancer research, and there is every reason to hope that discoveries will be made faster than ever before. Initiatives like Cavatica.org, funded in part by Dragon Master Foundation, make cancer research data open to researchers around the world. Additionally, researchers are willing to push their work into new frontiers, like the Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium (CBTTC) and Pacific Pediatric Neuro Oncology Consortium (PNOC) hospitals who have agreed to share data live during a clinical trial that is set to start later this summer. We are working closely with these initiatives, both through idea sharing and funding. Patient, family and foundation input is being heard more than ever before, and I am optimistic that Senator McCain will be a strong advocate for both himself and other patients facing a similar diagnosis.

I’m confident that Mr. McCain has the fortitude to take this disease on full steam, and everyone at Dragon Master Foundation wishes him well.   

Editor’s note: The odds of getting brain cancer is about 1 in 140 for men and 1 in 180 for women. The odds of being elected to Congress are 1 in 600,000. Let’s all hope Senator McCain continues to beat the odds!

How weird are you?

Dragon Master Foundation

This article makes a really good case for big data analytics in medicine. (Which is the heart of what we are working on.) It essentially says that we all have gene mutations making us each much more unique than scientists previously thought. It is really only through compiling vast numbers that we might be able to see some patterns emerge. 
This applies to cancer research, but it can also apply to all sorts of other medical conditions. Have you ever had a doctor tell you that your response to a drug shouldn’t cause the reaction it caused it caused in you? That’s kind of the same thing. A drug might do different things to you than to other people because of your unique genomic composition. If you’ve ever dealt with a reaction like this, you know how frustrating it can be. Now imagine your reaction is the difference between life and death. Pretty important, right?
We are laying the groundwork that will help people navigate these situations. Chances are, it will be you or someone you love that needs the answers. Help us now, so we can help you later.

Signs, Llamas, and Hallelujahs

David's Journey, Dragon Master Foundation

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A lot of people I know believe that their loved one can send signs from Heaven. I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic about this, but I can’t deny that things happen in quirky and unexpected ways that certainly bring David front and center for me.

Today, I was listening to Ben Rector’s Brand New. It’s a song I really connect with – usually in a very happy way. Today, though, it happened to play as I was doing some work on kids with brain cancer. I listened to the lyrics in a different way because of that. Normally, I think of my husband when I hear it, but today, I thought of David. He had this crazy dance thing he would do in middle school called the Llama dance. It was silly and pointless and that was the whole point. It was just to make people laugh. The lyrics for the song say this,

Like when I close my eyes and don’t even care if anyone sees me dancing

Like I can fly, and don’t even think of touching the ground

Like a heartbeat skip, like an open page

Like a one way trip on an aeroplane

It’s the way that I feel when I’m with you, brand new”

I miss the fresh and happy way that David looked at things. He saw the good. He saw the possibilities. A lot of what we are trying to do is because David believed that REALLY good things were possible. The work we are doing is not easy. It is hard. It is expensive. Half of my days are spent alternating between people who have trouble connecting with the cause because they haven’t lost a loved one to a “rare” disease, and the other half is dealing with people whose lives have been shattered by it. The real message isn’t about rare disease, though. It’s about the human condition, and how we can improve life for everyone if we do this one hard thing.

“Brand New” normally makes me very happy, but today, it just made me sad. It made me miss the way I got to feel when I was with David. I can tell you that it feels a little strange to be crying buckets while such an upbeat song plays, but there I was. The song ended, and the next song to play was

Andy Grammer’s “Good To Be Alive”.

If you aren’t familiar, some of the key lyrics for this song are

I’ve been grinding so long, been trying this shit for years

And I got nothing to show, just climbing this rope right here

And if there’s a man upstairs, he kept bringing me rain

But I’ve been sending up prayers and something’s changed

I think I finally found my hallelujah

I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life

Now all my dreams are coming true, ya

I’ve been waiting for this moment

And it’s good to be alive right about now

Good, good, good, good to be alive right about now”

If you don’t really listen, it just sounds like a typical happy song, but when you listen to the lyrics, you understand that the joy he feels is because he has spent years trying to get to this point. The struggle to achieve your dreams makes attaining the dream euphoric. On paper, we have a lot to be proud of, but in reality, we’re still climbing that rope. We’re putting hand over hand, making progress. The doors are opening, but it will take a lot more money to really get us where we need to go.

I think this song came on to remind me that we will have our “hallelujah” moment. We will see the day when we can truly deliver people from the grips of brain cancer. I believe that the course we are on will also help find cures for lots of other diseases and medical conditions. But we really do need your help. We have all been given the gift of life TODAY. And what we do with that gift can make our collective world a better place. Will you join us?

We need to people who will help us raise money in the Macy’s Charity Challenge. It doesn’t start until July 11th, but you can sign up now. You may not think it will make a big difference, but it does. Because if you take a step forward, other people will step forward, too. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t online much or if you hate fundraising. In fact, it means so much more if those things are true. By signing up, you are saying you believe in David’s vision. You’re saying you believe we can create a better world. It only takes a few minutes to sign up, and you could help us have that “Hallelujah” moment.

Sign up here: https://www.crowdrise.com/fundraise-and-volunteer/the-team/dragon-master-foundation

(If you see an image that says “test team”, don’t worry – it should still take you to the Fired Up For A Cure/Dragon Master Foundation Page.

No One Left Behind

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May was a whirlwind of activity, and while many exciting things are happening, I think it is important to keep in mind just how very far we have to go. We are at war with cancer, but we are forgetting one of the most important rules of war: protect your children first. If you think about it, in dangerous situations, we always protect our children first, but that isn’t true of battling cancer. Funding for pediatric cancer research only gets 4% of the NIH budget.

At Dragon Master Foundation, we don’t wait for government funding to do the work that we believe in, but we know that our work could be done so much faster if there was government funding behind it. That’s why this message from Kids v Cancer is so important. Take a moment and give it a read.

 

Sometimes Choosing A Cancer Treatment Isn’t The Toughest Decision

52 People To Meet Posts, Uncategorized

 

Addison

Addison Adams

 

Hearing that your child has cancer sends your world into a tailspin. Hearing that they have a lethal form of brain cancer that really has no treatment path is devastating. It’s the kind of thing people carry with them for the rest of their lives.

One form of brain cancer, DIPG, has been had very few treatment advances in decades. A big part of the reason for this is that so little is known about how the cancer develops and grows. Typically, biopsies are not performed because of the tumor’s brainstem location, and what scientists do learn is often from tissue taken after a child has passed away. That is an issue, too, because it is a difficult conversation for most medical practitioners to have with these already vulnerable families.

We reached out to a very generous family who donated their daughter’s tissue to research, and they agreed to share their story. We hope that it will inspire others to think about whole brain tissue donation.

Interview with Kindra Adams, mom to Addison

When did you first start thinking about donating Addison’s tissue? 

Addison’s father and I knew from diagnosis that one way or another Addison would be tumor free.  We learned more about tumor donation after a Facebook page for Katherine The Brave posted about it.

Yes, Katherine the Brave’s page is well known in childhood cancer circles. Did you discuss the donation with people in your family and friends?

Yes, we discussed it with family and friends.  Everyone seemed very supportive of our decision.  We were going to do it no matter what, but it helps to have everyone on board.

Do you wish you had known more about tissue donation sooner?

Yes, it seems like information on donation is pretty hard to find unless you know about it already.  If it wasn’t for Katherine’s page, I’m not sure we would have known anything about it.  I’m also not sure we would have been real receptive to it if someone approached us. That’s what makes it more difficult to get the information out there.

What were your biggest concerns around donating her tissue? My biggest concern was that it wouldn’t grow.  That after it was removed and transported, that would just be the end.  I really wanted it to survive and hopefully help someone.  I know it might sound unusual, but I was also worried about how it would affect her appearance.  We wanted to be able to have an open casket, and it was nice to know that the incision wouldn’t be visible.

As a mom of a child who died from brain cancer, I totally get that. I don’t think it is an uncommon concern at all. Parents want to protect their child in every way, and this is no exception. Who answered your questions about the process? Dr. Monje .  We had been in contact prior to this because I was looking for clinical trials for Addison.  When I finally sent her the e-mail about donation, she set up a time and called me.  She explained everything, and we stayed in contact.  Even to this day, I can send her an e-mail and see how everything is going.

Dr. Monje’s lab contributes data to the open access data platform called Cavatica. Although Dr. Monje’s lab commits to putting 75% of the tumor tissue they receive into this platform, it is possible that Addison would have been part of the 25% that did not get shared. You were able to verify with Dr. Monje that Addison’s tissue was indeed shared, though, which is really cool.

Did you know much specifically about what her tissue might be used for?  Yes and no.  I know at the time of our phone call, Dr. Monje gave me lots of information. Unfortunately, my memory retention hasn’t been the best lately.

Yes, memory retention is frequently a problem during the grieving process. I definitely had some issues with that, too. How does in make you feel knowing her tissue is in the open access database, Cavatica?  Honestly, I’m thrilled that Addison can be a part of something this important.  We have learned that Addison is in the 20% of DIPG kids that are lacking a particular mutation so that makes her part in Cavatica even more important.

As a parent who also has a child with data in Cavatica, I can say that it does give you some comfort to know that their tumor tissue may help save another child’s life one day. 

Cavatica is the platform for data sharing that will be used to empower an upcoming DIPG trial being launched by the Pacific Pediatric Neuro Oncology Consortium. You can read more about that here.

 

 

3 Changes Coming To Clinical Trials

Lessons Learned, Uncategorized

Clinical Trial Changes

If you have a “rare” cancer that doesn’t have a great standard of care, chances are you will be offered a clinical trial. To the general public (which is who we all are before that diagnosis is presented) clinical trials sound like a scary thing. To a cancer patient being told there is no cure, a clinical trial is a lifeline being tossed in a stormy sea. IF you catch it, it MIGHT help save your life.

So how do you pick a clinical trial? Well, first you have to find one that you qualify for. We’re going to assume that you have a doctor who is really helping you and is presenting you with some choices. So you have a couple of clinical trials and the “standard of care” to choose from. How do you decide? Right now, it’s a guessing game, but all of that will be changing rapidly as technology and open access data become more commonplace in the process.

  1. You will have more concrete data to help make decisions. I have seen some pretty impressive technology being developed by Clalit Research Institute in Israel that will help a doctor walk through a list of weighted questions with a patient that will help them make this difficult decision. (That program was developed using data made available from a clinical trial, and as more data becomes open access, I think we can expect to see more applications like this developed.) Each patient will be able to rate a list of possible side effects and based on their feedback, an algorithm will provide guidance on particular trials.
  2. You will know more about what “successful” patients look like. As data begins to become collected in one place, it is easier to compare patients on a genomic level. Researchers will be able to compile profiles of successful patients to help determine who has the greatest chance of success on a trial. My son participated in a clinical trial where one patient was doing really well. We had no idea if David would have the same results because there was very little data to tell us why the first patient was successful.
  3. The system will start to find you. Right now, clinical trials are found largely by patients and doctors sifting through websites like clinicaltrials.gov to find possible trials. In the future, doctors will enter your information into the computer, and then you will be pre-qualified based on your exact diagnosis and personal information. The computer will then present a list of potential trials that you can choose from.

This all might sound a little too good to be true, but the fact is, the infrastructure is already in place. Cavatica.org is an open access research platform that Dragon Master Foundation and others have been funding for more than three years now. It houses a patient’s full genome and biosamples from the patient, and sometimes the patient’s parents. It also links to the patient’s clinical records so we can have a longitudinal view of that patient. I believe it is the single most complete picture of a patient you can get, and we are working hard to make it available to everyone. (At the moment, it is largely working with pediatric brain cancer data, but the platform is built to expand as funding becomes available.)

Data like this can take a lot of the fear and guessing out of treatment, and it should lead us to more successful treatments and cures. We are on the cusp of a meaningful shift in cancer care, and I’m excited for this to start really impacting patients lives.

Commitment vs. Devotion

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UncleJerry&AuntDonnainDoorway

I was a child when my uncle Jerry died. I remember him through that lens… they are all fond memories. He was the jokester in our family, always ready with a harmless prank. And they were harmless, that was part of the appeal. You could trust him. He didn’t go too far.

He was a successful businessman and well loved in the community. He died of a massive heart attack at age 44. His funeral is one of the first I ever went to. Watching my grandmother and aunt (his wife) deal with his loss was my first real lesson in grief. There was no crazy wailing, although I’m sure  they wanted to rage out. My aunt was fairly stoic. Not cold, just stunned. My grandmother cried, and I remember a cousin telling me that she heard our grandmother say, “I just want you to open up those big blue eyes and say, ‘Mama’ “ as she stood over his coffin.

If there was a family member who didn’t cherish him, I was unaware of it. He was my mother’s brother, and I guess in some families my aunt might have drifted away, but not in ours. She was a fixture at my grandmother’s house for decades – until my grandmother died.

When I got a little older, my aunt would often include me and my cousins in trips to her beach house. (She was not the only generous family member who did things like this, but this is a story for her.) I learned how to fold a fitted sheet on one of those trips. I ate cauliflower for the first time. I had a sundae with both chocolate AND caramel on it. The best kind of memories were made.

At some point, years after my uncle had died, I asked my aunt why she wasn’t dating. She was so fun and such a vital person. She told me that my uncle was the only one for her, and then said, “Do you remember his laugh?” She had such a great smile on her face when she said that, and I kind of knew then that what they had couldn’t be replaced. She might find a substitute, but she was content with her memories of him.

As it turns out, she never married again. I think she has been happy. At least she always seems that way to me. Her two daughters gave her lots of grandchildren, and she has always remained as active as her circumstances would allow.

I thought of her this morning. Of her relationship and the example she set with how she has lived her life. And it came to me that she was in a devoted relationship with my uncle. So many settle for “committed”, when we should really wait for devotion.

What’s the difference? Well, the dictionary says that committed means “to pledge (oneself) to a position on an issue or question; express (one’s intention, feeling, etc.)”.

By contrast, devoted means, “zealous or ardent in attachment, loyalty, or affection.” (Don’t confuse this with obsession… that’s a whole other story.)

But to me, devotion is when your unconscious thought leads you to care for someone. It’s the way a good parent feels about their child. I am truly blessed to be in a devoted romantic relationship, and people ask about it all the time. I’m not sure what they see, but they can tell it’s different. I struggle to put into words how it feels because it always sounds arrogant, and it is not a boastful thing. However, so many people settle for committed, that I wanted to try and put it to words for you.

• Love is preferring one person’s laugh to everyone else in the world.
• Love is fun. It’s like seeing a blockbuster summer film that no one else has seen yet. It’s so amazing and awesome that you want everyone else to experience it, too.
• Love is taking care of their needs before your own – not because you are being nice, but because they are the first thing on your mind.
• Love is 100% reciprocal. (I used to think that one person always loved more than another, but I don’t believe that anymore.)

• Love is not Ross and Rachel from “Friends”. If one partner is acting like Ross, there is no way that relationship will work long term without the other person being truly miserable.
• Love is not work. I’m probably going to irritate a lot of people with that statement, but I owe it to the young people I know to be honest about this. When you are with the right person, it really isn’t work. I know it sounds corny, but you really want the other person to be happy so much that you find the compromises pretty easily and quickly.
• Love does not control you. It won’t tell you who to choose as friends or how to spend your time. (“Honey-do” lists not withstanding.)
• Love builds you up. I can list a million reasons why I love Richard, but the most shocking thing about our relationship is that he can also list a million reasons about me. We both tell each other those things all the time. I joke that I have to harass him a little just so his ego won’t be too big, but I adore him and he knows it.
• Love isn’t jealous. Not just of another person, but of anything. We don’t worry about each other’s loyalty. We both have healthy relationships with friends of the opposite sex. Neither of us are worried about those relationships because we are devoted to each other.

There are lots of other things that love is or it isn’t. If you have a doubt in your mind, then that probably isn’t the real thing. I know that is harsh. I’m sorry for that. I  know a lot of people in committed relationships who have built happy lives for themselves, but it isn’t the same as being devoted. If you still have that choice in front of you, my wish for you is that you hold out for devoted.

What is Your Field of Dreams?

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Field of DreamsIt occurred to me today that I don’t really get to talk to our supporters enough. Working on Dragon Master Foundation has turned into a full-time volunteer job for me, and most of the time, my head is down on one project or another. The work doesn’t stop coming, but I am so thankful to be in this position – doing this on behalf of cancer warriors. I wanted to stop for just a moment today, and let you know what your support has made possible this week. (And yes, it is only Tuesday!)

You helped give encouragement to a researcher who has developed a program around brain tumor tissue donation. We will be sharing a lot of his work over the next few months, but sometimes, they just need to hear that their work matters. As he told me about the extremely sacrificial gift he works with in his lab, I could hear the emotion in his voice. Tears gathered in my own eyes as I thought about the sacrifice our family has made, and I hope you all know that giving families this final way to make a difference is a truly valuable gift.

You helped gather feedback on the recently launched research platform, Cavatica, from a man who has dedicated most of his nearly 70 years on this planet to cancer research. He spoke with wonder in his voice of the things he is able to accomplish with this technology – things he never thought possible!

You helped give hope to a group of innovators who are developing a big data algorithm that can make treatment recommendations based on a patient’s DNA. They had been struggling to find the amount of data needed to test their theories, and now they have a source for their work.

These were conversations filled with hope, and that is what we are funding. When we started Dragon Master Foundation, it was because we had some audacious ideas about how to help researchers. Less than four years in, we have accomplished so many of the goals we set out to achieve. There is a real-time, open access platform where hospitals can share genomic and patient data. As I type, there are more than 15 hospitals sharing that data with agreed upon data standards. That alone is more than most people thought would be possible. Like the movie Field of Dreams, this is a real life “if you build it they will come” situation.

Which leads me to the best kind of problem to have. We can’t seem to fund the progress fast enough. We have delivered a tool to the nation’s top doctors who are eager to use it, but we need to fund the data to go inside. Putting the data into Cavatica means truly empowering precision medicine. It means we will be on our way to saving lives. If you’ve ever faced cancer, for yourself or a loved one, then you know that today matters.

There’s another great quote in Field of Dreams that applies to this situation. Archie Graham says, “We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening. Back then I thought, “Well, there’ll be other days”. I didn’t realize that that was the only day.” It’s easy to let days slip by without taking action, but one day, there won’t be any more chances. We have to seize the opportunity now! Not because there won’t still be data to add tomorrow, but because there are lives being lost today. Every day is life or death to someone. So let’s work with urgency now to save more lives tomorrow.

 

Home Checklist for Long Hospital Stays

Lessons Learned, Uncategorized

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We saw a checklist for things to do while you are on vacation, and it made us think of how many families end up out of town for treatment for long periods of time. If you are like us, those times may come rather unexpectedly! So if you are a friend or neighbor, this list might offer some good tips on things you could offer to do for a family that is gone for medical treatments.

  1. Set up a schedule for lawn maintenance. For families that don’t already hire out this service, setting up a system for them will be a big time saver, and may keep them out of trouble with the homeowners association.
  2. Check on their trash & recycling. These bins may fill up even while they are gone. We had people feeding our cats, taking out the litter, cutting the grass, etc. If those jobs are being done by neighborhood youth, they may not think to take the trash and recycling bins down to the street.
  3. Turn the water heater to vacation mode. Believe me, water heaters are the last thing on your mind when you have a sick loved one, but this could save them on energy costs. Most families facing long-term illnesses are counting pennies, so this is a nice way to help. Just make sure you leave a note in a prominent place to let them know that you changed the setting!
  4. Ask if they would like the water turned off to their house. During the winter, this may make a lot of sense, but not if they have pets that are still in the house. Again, if you do this, make sure to leave a prominent note. Even though they approve the action, they may not remember doing so by the time they make it back home.
  5. Ask if they would like you to randomly check on things. If there are no pets in the house, it may sit empty and quiet for long stretches. Leaving a random light on or parking a car in the driveway can give the appearance of activity that may ward off thieves. If it is winter, shoveling the walk definitely shows activity, and could be a nice touch if the family does get to come home.

Do you have any other tips? Please share them below.

 

Out of Sight, But Not Out of Mind

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outofsight

A long time ago, I had the pleasure of working on some projects with Sid Brooks. Sid was a simple man. He spent decades of his life in service to others, first in the military, then in what many would call a “thankless” job. He was the equipment manager for the San Diego Chargers when I met him. Surrounded by people making millions of dollars a year, Sid quietly did his job, and treated everyone as if they were the most important person in the world. You might expect him to treat the football players that way, but he also treated the receptionist with the same respect. Every person he encountered, from a waitress to the owner of an NFL franchise, was given his full attention, and as a result, he was well loved throughout the NFL.

He came to mind this morning as I was trying to think of ways to enlist the help of folks who might be reading this. You see, Sid made everyone feel important, but all too often, we only take the time to thank the most obvious people in our lives. In the cancer world, the doctors and the nurses get most of the thanks, but what about the folks working in the lab to make sure your samples are handled properly? Or the bioinformatician who makes sure your data is just right so that one day they may find a cure? Or the administrator that keeps everyone on track? What about the janitor who keeps everything spotless so that everyone else can focus on their task at hand? Those people often go unnoticed, and worse yet, unthanked, even though their jobs are pushing the world of science ahead. If not for them, we wouldn’t be in this race to find cancer cures. If not for them, there would be less hope.

So I propose this Valentine’s Day that we all show them some love! Please send those folks a message and let them know you think they are #OutofSight – in a good way! You can send a note directly to someone you may have come into contact with, or you can just use the hashtag and send your message out on the internet. Here are some sample messages:

This #ValentinesDay, I want to give credit to those #OutofSight workers who make my hospital stay go smoothly! You’re the best!

You may be #OutofSight, but I know there are lots of people working to find cancer cures. Thank you!

You may be #OutofSight, but you are still on my mind. Thanks for working behind the scenes to make the world a better place!

You can add other meaningful hashtags, like #btsm (brain tumor social media) or #endcancer or whatever your community normally uses. Maybe more folks will see it and share the positive message.

And for all of you reading this, I want to take a moment to thank YOU. Being an advocate for someone with cancer is sometimes as simple as sharing a message.