Survivor Offers Words of Hope to Senator McCain

Dragon Master Foundation

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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!

Who’s Really the Enemy Here?

David's Journey, Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

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When someone you love is diagnosed with a terminal illness, the gut reaction is to attack that disease. That’s certainly how we felt when David was diagnosed, and our initial efforts were focused on ending Glioblastoma (GBM) because that was the type of tumor David had. We were not involved in the world of research, and that seemed the most logical  course of action to us. To strike back at the thing that struck at us.

We thought we knew how to help. As we learned more, we realized that we needed to help find cures for brain cancer as a group of cancers because there is a lot that can be learned by studying them together. We also felt like we needed to help that community as a whole because they are so underserved. A broader goal brought us into contact with many more researchers, and many more ideas.

We were energized by some of the sharpest minds in research, and realized that the kind of analytics we wanted to do are really best empowered by studying all types of cancer, and even other diseases, in tandem. The most cutting-edge research points to cancer being mutations in genes and studying the mutations, regardless of the starting point in the body, is leading to new research pathways.
Cancer is a disease that has plagued humanity for generations. In all that time, we have mostly dealt with it as a disease of a particular body part. We now know that it is much more complicated than that, and we need to empower researchers to follow many pathways.
David had a bright and curious mind. For him, helping researchers was never really about helping himself. It was always about helping other people and solving the puzzle of cancer. Brain cancer is the beast that took David from us, and we would love to see that disease wiped out for good. But what if the answer to curing brain cancer lies in pancreatic cancer research? What if the answers we seek lie in the cure for  fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive? (That’s a super interesting rare disease that has been connected to the brain cancer DIPG. You can learn more about that here.)
It’s human nature to strike back at the thing that hits you. But do we really even know what that thing is? Dragon Master Foundation is focused on putting all of a patient’s information into one giant research platform. It’s a database, yes, but it is also a place where researchers can collaborate and gain access to biosamples. It has a patient’s full genomic data, but it also has their treatment path over time. It gives us a more complete picture of what is going on with the patient and what treatments are successful. It can help us understand why certain patients do well on a clinical trial and some don’t. And possibly most important, it looks at patients across many disease types to compare and contrast things like gene mutations. Instead of having one small group of researchers working on a problem, this platform makes it possible for any researcher, anywhere on the planet, to work on high quality data to help find cures.
Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday. It’s a time when people around the world put a few of their hard-earned dollars into the hands of a charity that they hope can change the world. I’m convinced that Dragon Master Foundation is one of the most deserving places you could make your donation. Here are a few of the reasons why:
  • No one at Dragon Master Foundation gets paid.
  • We direct all of our research dollars directly into this one project that is already speeding research. (One doctor said that it shaved a month and a half off of his typical tissue request workflow!)
  • This project has the potential to help patients with cancer as well as a host of other medical conditions.
  • Through this portal, research can be done on both adult and pediatric populations.
  • It was listed as part of Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Fact Sheet.
  • It is open access – meaning researchers don’t have to be part of a special consortium to access the data.
  • It is cloud based – meaning the researchers don’t have to download petabytes of data that can take days to acquire. It also means they are not dependent on their hospital’s computational power because they can do their work directly in the web.
Dragon Master Foundation isn’t the only foundation funding this. As of right now, there are 13 hospitals and more than twice as many foundations putting resources toward this project. However, many of them have a specific disease focus where they direct their resources. By donating through Dragon Master Foundation, you can be assured that your donation will go to building the infrastructure that will help all patients, all researchers. This isn’t just a gift to help researchers. This is a gift for mankind. This #GivingTuesday, you can  be part of the generation that changes the world.

The Top 9 Things You Need to Know When Your Child is Diagnosed With Cancer

David's Journey, Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

carpeWhen David was diagnosed at 16, he was the first person in my immediate family to have a cancer diagnosis. We were shell shocked, to say the least. To be told that your seemingly healthy teen who had a bad headache is going to die… well, nothing prepares you for that. What happens next, though, is something I very much hope we can help parents prepare for.

David went to heaven four years ago, but we have stayed very active in the brain tumor community. It has been a huge part of my life for the last six years. (He was diagnosed in 2010.) I’ve learned a lot since then, some of it while David was in treatment, and some of it after he passed. All of it is information that I would rather forget, but it is important for parents like me to share their journeys so that those who follow after us can have a smoother path.

So here it goes, my top 9 tips for parents who’ve just heard that their child has cancer:

1. GET A SECOND OPINION. (Sorry for the all caps there, but really, this is important.) I don’t care that your doctor has been your family’s doctor for the last 3 decades. I don’t care if you are at one of the top hospitals in the country. Get a second opinion. Doctors are humans, and a lot of what happens in cancer treatments is up to their judgement. You may find that you don’t want to be on the path that they recommend. That isn’t a criticism of them. People are different. Paths are different. You almost always have to talk to more than one institution to know what all of your options are.

2. Do your research. Over and over again, I talk to families who say, “Well, our doctor said it is a ___ and we should do ___.” Then they just do it. We’ve been trained to honor medical professionals and trust their judgement. That’s not a bad thing. But being led around like a blind sheep can lead you into a treatment path that isn’t right for you or your child. When you are given the diagnosis, look it up. Start with major websites that can give you reliable information. A really good place to start is at https://www.cancer.gov/types

From there, look for foundations that specialize in the type of cancer that your child has. Since David had brain cancer, I can tell you that the sites I found useful were:

http://abc2.org/guidance/find-care – to find out which hospitals specialize in brain cancer – more on this later.

https://endbraincancer.org/we-can-help/ – to get guidance on what your next step should be. At the time I sought their advice, they were very frank about the type of testing they recommended and what to look for in a doctor, including referring me to a Neuro Oncologist.

3. If at all possible, go to a hospital that has a brain tumor team. ABC2.org only lists hospitals with a dedicated brain tumor team. The world of brain cancer research was virtually stagnant for many years, but in the recent couple of years, discoveries are being made very rapidly.  I don’t think it is practical to expect a doctor that deals with many types of cancer  to stay on top of every new treatment coming down the pike. Most will wait for the “tried and true” treatments before they change their recommendations. Brain cancer patients frequently don’t have that kind of time. Cutting edge treatments could mean the difference between life (or at least extended life) and death.

4. Ask every question you have. Write them down between appointments and don’t be shy about going through your list. The medical staff is there to help you and your child and the first step of that is making sure you understand what is going on.

5. Don’t be afraid to “fire” your doctor. I know that isn’t going to make me very popular with some folks, but here’s the deal. This is the single most stressful thing you will ever go through. You need to know that the doctor is 100% on your side and will fight for your child. If they ever make you feel like you are wasting their time, or your child doesn’t deserve treatment, move on.

6. Seek help. If you have found a doctor you like, but they are far away, ask for help. There are many foundations that fund travel and related expenses. Hospitals themselves sometimes have funds or auxiliary groups who can assist you. Crowdfunding websites help people raise money all the time for just this reason. You aren’t a slacker if you need help paying for all of this. Treatment is expensive. Time away from work means you have less money than normal. Going to doctor’s appointments means you need extra daycare, pet care, home care. It adds up. You can find a list of resources for brain cancer patients at http://www.dragonmasterfoundation.org. (Full disclosure: I’m President of that foundation.)

7. Make a Plan B. For everything. You may have a reliable vehicle, but what happens if your transmission blows? You have a friend picking up your other kids from school, but what happens when they get the flu? Most likely, you have people offering to help you, but they don’t really know what to help with. Get them involved in your plan B.

8. Make a treatment Plan B. I could have included this above, but this is super important. If your child has an aggressive cancer or one that has a high probability of recurrence, ask your doctor to tell you what the next line of treatment is. Time after time, people are lulled into a sense of security because treatment is going well, and the BAM! The cancer comes back. Everyone wants to believe the treatment will work, and if it fails, you have that same shock that came with diagnosis. Knowing what the next possible treatment is can really help you feel more prepared.

Side note: We were blindsided when David’s cancer spread. He had been on a clinical trial and was doing so well that his results were presented at a conference. We just knew he was going to beat his cancer. When it spread, we were kicked off the clinical trial and had to scramble to figure out what options were available for him.

9. Trust yourself. All of the tips above are for families who are prepared for an aggressive battle. However, not every family chooses that path. We were fortunate because David was a teenager and could tell us his wishes for treatment. Most parents are dealing with younger kids who may or may not understand the repercussions of treatment. We had an amazing neuro oncologist who would always lay out possible treatment options to us and the last choice was always, “or you can do nothing.” David had glioblastoma multiforme, and even now, six years later, there are no easy answers for that type of cancer. Brain cancer is a tricky, nasty beast. If there were one thing that was certain to work, I would recommend it, even if it made the child feel bad for a while. After all, what is six months of feeling bad compared to the potential 77 years of life lost when a child dies from cancer? But with brain cancer, there are no guarantees. Heck, for the aggressive cancers, there is very little hope. The families that push forward with treatment do so because it feels right for them, and frequently, because they want to help other people.

David was pretty adamant about helping others. His tissue was donated to research, and it is now part of an open access database that is empowering research around the globe. (This is also a project funded in part by Dragon Master Foundation. For more info on that, go to Cavatica.org.) It was a heart-breaking journey, but it was not in vain. I know that David would be thrilled to know that researchers are sharing data and working around the clock. We don’t know the answers yet, but I have every confidence that they are on the horizon.

I used to preface my help to people by saying “I’m JUST a mom…” because in the world of cancer research, I don’t want to come across as a doctor or researcher. However, my hard earned “momcology” degree is valuable, and I’m moving forward with a sense of purpose that my message is important and needs to be heard. Do you have tips you’d like to share for newly diagnosed patients? Please share them in the comments!

Bliss

Uncategorized

I’ve always liked that word. Bliss. Just saying makes me breathe a little deeper. I’ve liked the word, but I don’t think I truly understood the phrase “ignorance is bliss” until David got sick. I had no idea how lucky I was that I hadn’t had to watch a loved one battle cancer. I had no idea that the word “Momcologist” existed. I had no idea that having my child die from cancer would just be the first in a long line of unspeakable tragedies that I would have a front row seat to watch.

Ignorance can be bliss, but it can also be what holds us back. As humans, we are held back because most of us don’t  take the time to learn about disease and the obstacles facing medical researchers. I get it. Really. I was not a big fan of science or math in school, and reading anything other than Harry Potter at bedtime was not on my radar. But while I sat there doing my horrible Hagrid impersonation, a disease was lurking that would steal my son’s life. If someone had told me, I think I would have felt helpless. Cancer is a disease that has plagued the world forever. How could I possibly do anything to stop it?

But something happens to you when your child is threatened. Your bliss is shattered, so you start asking questions. You scream out to the world that it isn’t fair, and you get the echoes of countless other parents as your answer. The power to stop cancer lies within us. Ok, not me, most likely, but within someone. Maybe it will be someone in the oncology/cancer research field. Or maybe it will be some computational biologist or mathematician or astrophysicist. But it won’t happen if we sit by, blissfully ignorant that they need our help. THEY NEED OUR HELP. I don’t care what it is that you do, you can make a difference in the war on cancer. 

There is an open access platform called Cavatica that will bring top quality cancer data to the people who want to find cures. It is free for them to see because hospitals and foundations are paying to make it that way. But we are spending our money on building infrastructure – not big marketing campaigns. That’s where you come in. 

You are a single flame, but you could be the spark that starts the explostion (all props to Rachel Platten). Please tell people about Cavatica. Tell them that there is a new way to make discoveries for cancer research. Tell them that every type of cancer is important and that everyone deserves a chance to defeat cancer. The beta version is open to cancer researchers right now at Cavatica.org. Let’s make your moment of bliss the moment you hear that they have found a cure.

(Side note: couldn’t find a pic that illustrated my point with people, so this is a shot of my cat looking blissful.)

What A Rollercoaster!

Dragon Master Foundation

Like a rollercoaster as the last car eases over the top of the hill, we are hurtling forward after what felt like slow movement. The projects that we have been working on for the last three years are picking up speed. We have said all along that the way to change cancer research is through greater collaboration, and that message was loud and clear at this month’s Cancer Moonshot Summit at Howard University. There was an extremely diverse group of cancer research advocates brought together to hear Vice President Biden’s ideas and then work together to share our own ideas for how to bring about 10 years worth of change in the next five years. I think that idea might have scared some people, but we have already seen amazing advances using the Cavatica platform, so we know that kind of rapid improvement is possible. 

I know that there were many events held around the country, and we even hosted an event at WSU in Wichita, but many of you may not have had a chance to really see what happened during the day of the Summit. I wanted to give you my perspective on the day, and I hope it fills you with the kind of hope I have for the future of cancer and disease research. 

We started the morning with American icon Carol Burnett. She was delightful, as always, and the fact that she took the time to be there with us spoke volumes about how amazing this effort really is. Vice President Biden shared some of his frustration with us over costs and lack of progress, and we learned about some of the goals of the Cancer Moonshot initiative from Dr. Danielle Carnival, Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Director of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force. 

There were several other speakers, all of whom underscored the need for this important gathering and continuing effort by the community. We broke into work sessions for the morning, and I was placed in the “Solving the Technical Challenges to Unleash the Power of Data” group. That was no big surprise! 

I was incredibly humbled by the people in my workgroup. From industry veterans who have been working on making genomic data available like Warren Kibbe to bright, young innovators like Daniel Wagner who are challenging the way we look at and access the data. It was a fast-paced discussion that resulted in some great ideas.

We all returned to the general session for lunch where we could share ideas in a less-formatted way. I had the great pleasure of sitting with Dr. Charles Powell from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Our discussions covered everything from rare forms of Mesothelioma to the latest imaging technologies. There’s nothing quite like watching a doctor get a look at new technology that will help him do his job more effectively, and I had the pleasure of watching that at lunch. It is simply amazing what we are gaining access to through new technologies. We got a great look at how Siemen’s is turning analog scans into digital data that can be used for comparative analytics. That will be great in Cavatica!

After lunch, we heard some great speakers who spoke about collaboration. I think some of these were available on the live broadcasts, and they are available for viewing here:

Then we were off to our afternoon workgroup sessions. My session was on “Data: To What End?” and our insightful speaker to start the session was none other than David Agus. 

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We talked about existing collaborations, and I finally had a chance to mention Cavatica, the sharing platform we have been funding. The attendees seemed a little stunned that we already have 10 hospitals not only sharing digital data, but biosamples as well. There was still some sentiment among event attendees that it would be hard to get scientists to share their pre-publication data, but the doctors at the 10 Cavatica institutions are truly putting children, and indeed all humans, first. This level of collaboration may be unprecedented, but it is the wave of the future and that was evident from the number of people looking to learn more about our platform. I was so honored to be able to share about the many hospitals and nonprofits who have come together to build this amazing resource. I believe it could be the model by which all future research is done. 

After a pretty exhilarating working group, we returned to the main hall to hear Greg Simon, Executive Director of the Cancer Moonshot. Dr. Adam Resnick and I got to speak with him for a few minutes after the event was over, and I felt like he was truly trying to pull together all the resources he can to make the end of cancer a reality in our lifetime. 

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The event ended with Dr. Biden and the VP Biden speaking to the crowd and asking for a prolonged commitment to working together for cures. I believe we have that commitment from everyone that attended this important event. 

We returned home to find out that we have been accepted into the Revlon “Love Is On” Challenge. This is an amazing opportunity, not only to raise much needed funding for the research platform, but also to raise awareness for the platform and explain how it can improve research around the world. You’ll be hearing a lot from us about this, but there are two things you can do right now to make a huge difference:

  1. Sign up for our Thunderclap to announce the contest. We’ve used this before, and it is quick and easy. You give one-time permission to Thunderclap to send out a message on our behalf. The message will ask people to support Dragon Master Foundation in the “Love Is On” Challenge. Sign up here: http://thndr.me/ukBgiJ
  2. Sign up as a fundraiser for the “Love Is On” Challenge. This will give you a fundraising page of your own, which will allow you to easily share the challenge with your friends and family. We are asking that everyone make a minimum $10 donation because that is what is needed to count for the contest. Those $10 donations could easily be turned into ONE MILLION DOLLARS if we win the contest. We’ve won social media contests like this before, so we know with your help we can do it again.