Can Zika Really Cure GBM? Experts Weigh In

Lessons Learned, Uncategorized

3D Image of the Zika Virus from WikiMedia

For most people, trying to navigate the world of new cancer treatments is not easy. The media reports on new discoveries like they are already viable treatments, and patients are often confused as to why they can’t access things they hear about on the news.

We’d like to help brain cancer patients and their families understand these discoveries a little bit better. The first step is really to understand that there is a big difference between what can happen in the lab and what happens in the human body. The lab gives us our first indications that something is worth exploring, but however promising something is in the lab, in the human body that path can lead to many things — from healing to death.

As our first example in what we hope will be an ongoing dialogue, let’s look at the Zika virus news. You’ve probably seen headlines like “Employing Zika Virus to Treat Advanced Brain Cancer” and “Zika Virus Targets and Kills Brain Cancer Stem Cells”. That sounds great, right? Who wouldn’t want to jump on that?

Unfortunately, these are still lab studies, and have a long way to go in proving safe and effective in humans. For some clarification, we reached out to Dr. Cheng-Ying Ho, MD, PhD, at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Ho has done some work with both the Zika virus and brain tumors.

Dr. Ho states, “The misconception about Zika originated from the earlier cell culture studies showing Zika preferentially infects neural stem cells. However, the cell culture system is an oversimplified model. It doesn’t have glia or inflammatory cells like human beings.”

She goes on to say, “Mouse models are a lot better, but most of the mice need to have a weakened immune system before they can be infected. Therefore these mice don’t have the immune response against the virus. It is also an artificial system.”

Many times, doctors and researchers are afraid to share preliminary results from studies because the general public may draw the wrong conclusions. Dr. Ho seems to share that concern. She states that her biggest concern about this seemingly promising strategy is the possibility of developing meningoencephalitis. Meningoencephalitis can be fatal and it has occurred in adult Zika patients.

Dr. Ho ended our interactions by saying, “The concept of using Zika virus to treat glioblastoma is very creative but may be difficult to be put into practice due to the possibility of fatal uncontrollable side effects.”

We also talked to Dr. Javad Nazarian of Children’s National Health System because of his work on pediatric brain tumors. He said that the issue is more complicated in children. “A child’s brain is constantly growing and making neuronal connections. It is an active environment and any time we apply drugs that indiscriminately target tumor AND healthy cells, we could potentially do more harm than good. That is why laboratory findings need rigorous testing and multiple validation steps before they have clinical benefits.” He went on to say that this is one reason that discovery and validation of effective treatments takes time.

Obviously, there are labs who are very interested in pursuing Zika as a possible treatment agent. We know that creative measures will be needed to combat GBM and other aggressive brain cancers, so we will continue to hope that one of these creative solutions will turn out to be a viable solution in humans. Will that be Zika? It seems to be too early to say, but for now, patients should not expect this to be a treatment that would be offered soon.

Note: This article is not intended as medical advice and you should always seek the opinion of your physician before starting or stopping any new treatment. Blog post was first published on Medium.com.

 

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.

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!

One Small Gesture CAN Change the World

Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

Today is the halfway point in the Revlon Love is On Challenge. We have raised over $21,000, which far exceeds any online fundraising we have done for Dragon Master Foundation in the past. It shows that we are growing as a foundation and that people are starting to really understand and support our mission. I really wanted us to be at $50,000 by the end of the day today, though. Hitting $50,000 today would mean that we have a guaranteed pitch meeting with Revlon to promote Cavatica — an open access data platform that will dramatically improve the cancer research process. We have until midnight. I haven’t given up hope.

My heart may be broken, but I don’t want yours to be. 

There are literally thousands of people who have the potential to read this message. If each of them donated only $10, we would far exceed our goal. There are many times in this life that we are helpless. We sit and watch as good people die from a disease that seems unstoppable. I’m here to tell you that it is stoppable. We are seeing breakthroughs with precision medicine efforts, but if we want them for everyone we must take action. Precision medicine initiatives are only as good as the data that drives them. You’ve seen the photos. Right now, a family sits with their child knowing there is nothing else to be done. For those of us who have been there, there is nothing we wouldn’t do to keep you from knowing that pain. Wives continue on without their husbands because a nasty beast stole them away right in their prime. Children grow up without mothers because cancer stole them from their family.

This project has the potential to help all of mankind. I don’t expect you to devote your life to it. I know you have jobs and kids and other responsibilities. All I’m asking is that you realize what an amazing opportunity this could be for all of us, and maybe skip that extra meal out this week. Donate two days worth of Starbucks to our cause — TODAY. I promise you we will make the very most out of that donation.

You can donate here: https://www.crowdrise.com/DragonMasterFoundation-Revlon2016

How do you answer the hard questions?

Lessons Learned

Whenever I talk to a family about brain cancer, I tell them they can ask me anything. Normally they ask me sensitive questions about the end of life or navigating treatment. But sometimes, tougher questions come out. The toughest one is “how do you go on without your son?” There are many answers to this question. First, would be that my other family members need me. But second would be that my son would want me to be there for these people. It doesn’t make it any less bone-crushingly sad. On the contrary, walking through hell with these families is horrific and hard. It’s been six years since we heard the words brain cancer, a little more than four since David was taken from us. And while many point to the successes of the foundation and the progress in research that we’ve helped with, I can’t see that. All I see is the next person in treatment with no clear treatment path. I’ve been a fairly selfish person for most of my life but now all I see is other people’s need. David always had that sight so maybe he passed some of it along. 

Right now, somewhere a family is agonizing over their loved one’s last breaths. Right now, somewhere a family is hearing that the diagnosis is terminal. I know there will always be freak accidents that steal our loved ones away, but cancer isn’t like that. It’s a disease that we are on the verge of finding cures for, but each day that passes steals away another life. 

People struggle with the meaning of life, but I know that the thing that gives my life purpose is making the way easier for others. That used to be through simple things like doing my job well or making lunch for a teacher at school. Now it is by helping push scientific research forward. And I can do that even though I made a C in Mrs. Coley’s Chemistry class. And you can do it, no matter what your background is. We all have power. We all have a voice. Let’s use it to end cancer now. Right now.

Brain Cancer Action Month 2016

Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

13419_1386361731692400_1879090937433300442_n

I had big plans to be super organized heading into May this year, but for various reasons, it just didn’t happen. So here we are, on May 4th (Star Wars Day!), and I’m just now making a post about all the ways you can get involved this month. There was a big event on May 1st in DC, Race for Hope, so I’m sorry for not getting word out to all of you in time to participate in that. It was only the first of many events this month, though, so without further delay, here are some ways you can get involved:

Wear gray. It’s the most simple way to show your support. Grey is a pretty bland color, though, so to really get people’s attention, you might need to draw some attention to yourself. Maybe some crazy hair, or a Hawaiian shirt on top of your grey… something te get people wondering what’s going on with you. 😉 You can even take a gray selfie and enter to win a prize!

Change your profile picture. Make your profile image go gray this month. Need some inspiration? Check out our Pinterest board.

Support on online fundraiser. Maybe you’re busy. We get that. So skip coffee or drinks for one day and donate that money to an online fundraiser. You can find some worthy places to donate at these links:

Sponsor a runner in California here , here , here or here

Sponsor Runners in Iowa

Sponsor a runner in Kansas here or here

Sponsor a runner in Pennsylvania here

Sponsor a runner in Virginia

Go to an event! This one is a little bit trickier because the events are in specific geographic locations, but if you can make it to one, please do! The folks that organize these events put a lot of hard work into them, and it physical events can be a real boost for survivors. I’m listing the ones I could find by date and then location.

May 14th

4th Annual Race for Hope DSM – Des Moines, IA

San Diego Brain Tumor Walk – The Waterfront Park, San Diego, CA –

May 15th

Comedy Night – Hollywood, CA

12th Annual Team Billy Ride & Walk for Research – Saratoga Springs, NY

Boston Brain Tumor Ride – Waltham, MA

May 21st

CureFest 2016 – Humble, TX

Bay Area Brain Tumor Walk  – Crissy Field, San Francisco, CA

Charleston Brain Tumor Walk – Mount Pleasant, SC

I am sure I’ve missed a lot of events for the month due to lack of research time. Do you have an event or activity to share? Please add it in the comments!

#MomentsofMagic

Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

Cancer can be one of life’s most difficult challenges. It has brought more pain to my life than I care to remember, but it has also given me great awareness of the little moments in life. I think it teaches a lot of people about gratitude, frequently in ways we wouldn’t imagine. I know trying to imagine what it is like to live with a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, especially if you think about it being your child or other loved one. It’s sad and scary, and well, I don’t want to think about it either. But I do want to bring attention to the need for research. I want you to think about ways we can cure cancer. I want you to think about it all the time – like those of us who have been faced with it in our daily lives.

But how can we think about it, and act on it, without being overwhelmed by it? After talking with a lot of folks, I think I found a way to shed some positive light on the issue. We’re going to start a sort of gratitude journal, where we can focus on those little moments that are good, that are special because they are so normal. We want you to see how grateful cancer patients and their families are for those little things.

So here’s what I need from you. I need you to start sharing those moments with me, so that Dragon Master Foundation can share them with the world. We’re going to call them #MomentsofMagic . They can be anything you want – as long as it was a moment that was special to you as a cancer warrior, caregiver, loved one or friend. We’d love to share pictures with the stories as well, so send whatever you would like to share to amanda.haddock (at)dragonmasterfoundation.org.

Together, we can focus on the positive. As Dumbledore would say, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

IMG_3115

Is Empathy Better than Apathy?

Dragon Master Foundation

Apathy

Let me just start this post by saying I just got bad news. I’ve come to know a family very well through their son’s GBM battle, and I just found out they are sending him home on hospice. No more options. He’s just a little boy. His Caring Bridge page has a rocket ship. He likes Legos and Star Wars. And they don’t have any other treatments for him. He is struggling to breathe, as many warriors do, because the tumor is pressing on critical parts of his brain. I’ve sat beside my son’s bed and watched that all happen. I’m horrified that they will have to do the same.

With each new family I meet, I think to myself, “I hope this is the one we save.” And I believe each time that it might be that person. That dad, that daughter. When I express my frustration in the timeline to those around me, they are always quick to say, “but look how far you’ve come!” That may be true, but it isn’t far enough, fast enough. We’ve made amazing headway. But it isn’t saving Jack.

When I post on Facebook or Twitter about these kids, people are quick to offer prayer. They are even quicker to send a birthday card or gift to the sick child. That gives peace for a moment, but I want more. I want the same kind of action and passion toward curing these warriors so that we don’t feel the need to make their birthday special because it is probably their last. Which brings me around to my question. Is empathy better than apathy?  Are we really helping anyone by feeling sorry for them? When you read those stories and posts and think, “oh how sad”, does it incite you to action?

Today I read some of the comments on VP Biden’s Cancer Moonshot post. At that time, there had only been 125 people who had shared their cancer stories. My story is near the top with only 10 likes. Are you kidding me?!? The Vice President of our country is finally making cancer research an issue and only 125 people could be bothered to respond? I get that not everyone likes to write about that stuff, but everyone could go click like on a story that resonates with them. Is cancer research important to you or not?

I’ll be perfectly honest. Six years ago it wasn’t a priority for me. I thought most cancers were curable, and that the ones that weren’t were extremely rare. I was wrong. Cancer is still a devastating disease that takes many forms – quite a few of which are virtually untreatable. Oh, they will do some form of treatment for everyone, but in cases like brain cancer, they know it most likely won’t do much good. May God bless the folks who go through these treatments knowing it may not help them, but it might help someone else down the road. David did that. And that’s why I am so passionate about this. If I had gotten passionate about it 10 years ago, maybe we could have saved him. But I’ll be damned if I sit by and let other people die when I know that science is capable of better treatments, and yes, maybe even cures.

When I was reading those posts, several people asked what they could do. No one had responded to them, so I did. I told them to volunteer with groups who are looking to change the status quo. Post on social media in support of those groups, and financially support them whenever you can. If we want change, we have to make it happen. Today the bad news went to Jack’s family. It could be anyone else tomorrow. Seven more children will be diagnosed tomorrow. Three of them will lose their battles. Every day. To me, that means we have absolutely no time to lose. What does it mean to you?

 

I Got Nothing

Dragon Master Foundation, Lessons Learned

  As I sit here with a riot of thoughts, I realized none of them were really cohesive enough to make a decent blog post. When I tried to find the right words, my brain came back blank. I got nothing. Why is that? 

Part of it is because what half of the world mostly wants to hear is the good and positive stuff we are doing to change the world. That’s fun to write, but it doesn’t seem to spur people to action. The other people in the world want to hear the horrible stuff. I’m a bit appalled at the number of supposed childhood cancer awareness advocates on social media who really don’t want to share anything other than pictures of dead and dying kids. It’s disgusting, and yet they have tons of followers.

Tonight I don’t have a story that would fall into either of those categories. There was no amazing advancement today. None of the kids I’m following died – praise Jesus! No, today was simply a day where parents I know watched their children play or eat or go to school, knowing that there is a monster growing inside of them. A savage, bloodthirsty monster slowly changing their brain. These parents live every day in a place of panic you can only know if you have been there. Doctors look at you with sad eyes. You know the look most people get when they go on hospice, or run out of treatments. Our kids and their parents get those looks on the day of diagnosis. Because while there are treatments, they are not highly successful. They try them because once in a while, the treatment will work. If we could see each child on a molecular level, we might be able to figure out why one child lives while many others die. That’s what Dragon Master Foundation is trying desperately to do. And we are desperate. We know the panic. The fear. The absolute powerlessness. 

I spend a lot of my time trying to help people understand that we are at a critical juncture in time. We have a chance to impact lives in the most real way imaginable. The work we are doing alongside many partners will impact the way research is done. We are flipping the model. The old way isn’t good enough. We have other tools – better tools- that are within our reach. We could get there faster if people would just pay attention. It is hard to remember to do something like vote on social media every day. But it’s not nearly as hard as facing someone with a cancer diagnosis knowing you didn’t even try.

Tonight I feel both blessed and disappointed. Blessed by so many people who went truly out of their way to help us with our bid to win $500,000 from Microsoft. And my heart is sorely disappointed in those who didn’t make the slightest effort to help us in this or other attempts. You’re busy. I get it. I used to be “busy”, too. Ironically, I’m busier now that I have ever been in my life. It won’t bring my son back. But it will save someone else’s child. How soon it does is up to each of us. 

Easy Guide to Instagram & Twitter

Uncategorized
No more brain cancer? That'd be super!

No more brain cancer? That’d be super!

We are well into the Microsoft #ChangeYourWorld contest, and there have been a few questions. First of all, yes, this is a real promotion started by Microsoft. You can learn everything here:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/windows/upgradeyourworld/nonprofit-resources.html

Dragon Master Foundation is already international, so we are able to participate where some other foundations can’t. We are very collaborative and we will be web-based, which means ultimately, we will be helping researchers world-wide to collaborate. We will have a vast database that will be accessible to folks everywhere – from Dodge City, Kansas to Florence, Italy. Geographically, we reach further than that, but I think that’s a pretty good visual. 😉

Since this is a global competition, we need everyone’s help. Every single vote helps, and we really need you talking about it every day on your social media channels. Here’s what to do:

• If you don’t already have accounts, set up an Instagram account and a Twitter account. They are both free, but Instagram really only works on mobile devices (smart phones, iPads, etc.)

• Once you have your account set up, post every day – once on Twitter and once on Instagram. Your post needs to say these three things:

1. @dragonmasterfdn

2. #UpgradeYourWorld

3.#vote

If it doesn’t say all of those things, the vote won’t count. It also won’t count if there are typos, so please check your post carefully to make sure those three things are exactly like that.

From the rules, I’m not sure if tagging @dragonmasterfdn will count or if it needs to actually be in the text that you post. So to be safe, please put it in the actual post. (Don’t just tag us in your photo.)

• A sample Twitter post could look like this:

Help us win $500K to find a cure for cancer! Tweet: “I for for You can also post on Instagram!

Remember you only have 144 characters to use on Twitter, so you have to keep it short. You can include a picture if you want to (posts with pics get more views), but if you do that , you will  have fewer characters that you can use. “Characters” are letters, numbers and spaces – so each key stroke counts as a character.

• On Instagram, you can use more than 144 characters, but remember, people are on Instagram to look at the pretty pictures, not to read. So make your picture interesting and keep the words short. The picture does not have to be related to the cause, but it certainly helps!

• Dragon Master Foundation can be found at @dragonmasterfdn on both Twitter and Instagram. Please follow us and you will get more ideas on what to post. You can use our posts to re-post on your own feeds.

• Set a reminder on your phone to make the posts every day. We are all busy, and you may forget if you don’t have a reminder set.

Please ask any questions you have by posting below. We have a lot of folks who are just signing up to Twitter and Instagram in order to help us, so the questions you ask will help others, too!

And thank you so much for getting involved with this! It will help a lot of other people learn about our quest to cure cancer, and hopefully we will walk away with $500,000 to fast-track our database!