Arms Open

David's Journey, Lessons Learned

I was listening to a song today, and I wanted to share it with all of you. This song immediately resonated with me because David was always ready with a hug for anyone who needed it. They feature people in the video who were placed into foster homes, and the imagery for that group is strong.

For me, though, this song exemplifies what our brain cancer family is like. None of us want to be here, but now that we are, we are stalwart in our support. You are not going this alone. We are here. We care.

You may face rounds of chemo, the pain of side effects or the disease itself, and nearly everyone has a crisis of faith. Doors close without others opening. We can’t stop the bad news from coming, but we can be here by your side to see you through it.

All of that is said so much more eloquently in the song, “Arms Open” by The Script.

I can’t unfeel your pain
I can’t undo what’s done
I can’t send back the rain
But if I could I would
My love, my arms are open

So when you feel like you can’t take another round of being broken
My arms are open
And when you’re losing faith and every door around you keeps on closing
My arms are open

I can’t uncry your tears
I can’t rewind the time
I can’t unsay what’s said
In your crazy life
My love, my arms are open

Oh, and when you’re cursing at the sky
And thinking, “lord, you must be joking”
My arms are open
And, and when you’re looking in the mirror
Thinking that, “my life is over”
My arms are open

My arms are open (oh, oh)
My arms are open (oh, oh)
My arms are open (oh, oh)
My arms are open (oh, oh)

So let me do to you
What you’ve always done for me
And let me be the ground
Underneath your feet

I can’t unfeel your pain
I can’t undo what’s done
I can’t send back the rain
But if I could, I would
My love, my arms are open, arms are open

So when you feel like you can’t take another round of being broken
My arms are open
Oh, and when you’re losing faith and every door around you keeps on closing
My arms are open

My arms are open (oh, oh)
My arms are open (oh, oh)
My arms are open (oh, oh)
My arms are open (oh, oh)

I will be standing here
I will be by your side (my arms are open)
You see me loud and clear
With my arms open wide (my arms are open)
I will be standing here
I will be by your side (my arms are open)
You see me loud and clear
With my arms open wide

My arms are open

You can watch the video here:  https://youtu.be/vOKOamXsXYE

Kids Helping Kids – Four Pennies at a Time

Dragon Master Foundation

Y O U R S P O T F O R L U X U R YIf you follow me on social media, then you have probably seen some mention of the Four Pennies project. There is a unique opportunity with the Four Pennies project to involve the population that stands to benefit the most: children. The money and awareness being raised through Four Pennies will help children with pediatric brain cancer, and by extension children with other types of cancer due to the expansion of collaboration among cancer researchers, but this project does more than that. It also provides young people with a unique, immersive opportunity to learn how they can help make a difference in their world, and among their peers.

Often children feel powerless to impact change on the world around them, and with all the negative news they are faced with, it can be overwhelming. The story of Four Pennies and Eric Montgomery is a powerful image of a young man who chose to make a positive change in the world and is inviting the rest of us to follow along.

You may be wondering why the project is called four pennies. There is more detail about that on the website (link at the bottom of the page), but here’s the way I put it when I’m talking to kids:

Eric decided to ask people to donate for pennies for every step he takes along this long trail. He picked four pennies because that’s the amount of every government cancer research dollar that goes to kids’ cancer research. So for every dollar that the government spends on cancer research only four cents goes to pediatric cancers. ( I usually pause here to see if they think that is fair. Spoiler alert: they don’t.)

Now four cents a step may not seem like very much, but the trail goes all the way from Mexico into Canada, so it’s a lot of steps. We are trying to help Eric reach his goal of getting four cents donated for every step that he takes by going out and telling people in our community about this amazing thing that he’s doing.

Eric began hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on Sunday, March 18th, but don’t worry! You haven’t missed much yet! The Trail goes from Mexico to Canada, so it will take quite a while for him to complete it – about 4 months, in fact! Eric estimates that it will take him about 4.6 MILLION steps to traverse the trail in its entirety. All along the way he will be giving us updates via social media, so it is a great chance for kids to see some educational principles in action.

Here are a few learning opportunities for classrooms who are following along:

• Geography/Geology – Eric will go through 6 of 7 eco-regions in the US. It’s a great opportunity for some real-world map reading and projections of how long it will take him to travel certain distances. Sample questions to ask: What kinds of things might slow Eric down on the trail? What kinds of terrain will he go through? Will he encounter the same type of terrain more than once?

• Goal Setting – Trips like this require a lot of planning and personal motivation. Eric has been planning his trip for months, taking into account that he won’t have access to  resources (food, water, shelter) along many parts of the trail. He will also need to motivate himself while on the trail for that many days by himself. Sample questions to ask: What kinds of things do you think Eric would need to pack for his trip? How much weight would those things weigh? Can he carry everything he would need for the entire trek?

• Preservation/History/Government – In order for trails like this to exist, they had to be commissioned and protected. The Pacific Crest Trail passes by National Monuments, through State & National parks, national forests and federal wilderness areas. It was one of the first two national trails, and was designated as such by President Johnson. Sample questions to ask: Why would the government need to be involved in protecting the trail? What circumstances make it ok to allocate space for public use? What could the positive effects of this be? Could there be negative effects?

• Math – So many possibilities for math! Students can calculating steps for a given distance, estimate how many steps Eric will take in a day, calculate the potential amounts of money raised based on various distances, etc.

• Biology – Six different ecosystems means the potential to encounter a number of native plants and a variety of species along the path. Students could research the most probably plants and animals that Eric may encounter. They could also talk about the ways the animals and plants differ based on the environments they live in. Sample question to ask: How would you expect the plants and animals to differ between ecosystems? Why would they be different?

• Engineering – land management, maintenance and restoration, construction, motorized vs nonmotorized trails. Sample question to ask: How can modern engineering protect nature?

• Language arts – reporting on Eric’s journey, imagining what could happen along the way, and reading about others who have taken the journey are all ways to engage more with Eric’s path along the trail.

If you are interested in learning more about the project, you can check out fourpennies.org or just send me a message! I can pass questions along to Eric out on the trail, and I’m happy to set up a Skype session with your classroom to help them learn more. If you want to make a donation, you can do that here.

 

How is Cancer Research Like Playing “Go Fish”?

Dragon Master Foundation

Sorry for the lack of blog posts lately. Lots going on, most of which gets posted to some form of social media or the other, but I wanted to make sure you non-social media folks saw this! We partnered with a class at the University of Alabama to make a video to help explain what Dragon Master Foundation does. We think they did a great job… let me know what you think!

So Much For “Catching It Early”

David's Journey, Lessons Learned
David & Rachel

Does this look like a kid waiting on brain surgery?

I found a Facebook post today from before I started this blog. You see, I didn’t know the path that we were headed down. I didn’t know that I would be trying to help others navigate the ugly world of brain cancer. I thought my son had a brain tumor that would require some potentially risky surgery, but that we would get it out and be on our merry way. I didn’t know a lot of things – then.

Fast forward to today, when I know more than I ever wanted to about brain cancer and how devastating it is – even when it is small and they catch it early. You see, this disease isn’t like most cancers. Catching it early doesn’t dramatically improve your chance of survival. It being small doesn’t make it any less aggressive.

Looking back at this post, I am struck by how naive I was. I know that the rest of the world is also that naive. I know that you won’t really understand unless, God forbid, it happens to you or someone you love. And that’s the real kicker. It COULD happen to you or someone you love. We have no idea why David got brain cancer. Most brain cancers can not be traced to a specific cause. He didn’t smoke or drink or even use a cell phone much. He was a healthy, happy 16 year old who didn’t deserve this. No one does.

This post is full of optimism, and though we may not have David with us anymore, we still have his sense of optimism. We know we are on the right track. We know we will help put an end to this disease, and most likely, many others. I wish with all of my heart that it had happened in time to save David, but I move forward everyday with a sense of urgency that it today it could be someone else’s “David”. One day, a mother will get to keep her innocence because of the work you are helping us do.

Here’s the post from September 3, 2010:

David was having really bad headaches so his dad took him to the ER – twice. Second time they did a CT scan and saw something. Turns out he had a small growth with some bleeding. The bleeding was irritating the area & giving him a headache. (We had originally thought the bleeding was an issue, but it seems to have stopped fairly quickly on it’s own.) So the headaches alerted us to a problem (the growth) that might have gone unchecked for a while otherwise.

The growth is a concern because it shouldn’t be there, but as growths go, it seems “good”. It’s small and compact, like a ball – not “reaching out” like an open hand.

Because it is in his head, they want to be very careful how they approach it. Since everything has stabilized so much (a very good thing) they are waiting for the dust to settle (or in this case for the blood that is in the wrong place to be reabsorbed) so they have a nice clear picture when they put their tiny scope camera in.

Now, this may sound intense, but there are some good things working here: 1) they caught it very early and 2) they have time to calmly decide on the best approach to fix it. Since he is doing so well, they can start with the least invasive thing and only use the more invasive stuff as a latter option. (A lot of times the situation is more severe and they have to use the “big guns” right away. And yes, that is just a figure of speech!)

The growth is in his brain, and not in the easiest location to reach, so the doctor is being very cautious about how and where he goes in. It is very likely that David will have to do a little rehab depending on what procedure(s) they have to use.

His headaches have been well under control (sometimes gone) since the day after he came into the hospital, so he’s feeling pretty good. He has been kidding around a lot today and seems pretty comfortable with what’s going on. He does know everything and was able to ask the neurosurgeon questions. (Which, if you know David, you will know that made him happy.)

Please keep praying for him. Things look good for the circumstances, but we have a lot of work to do next week.

Lastly, I’d just like to thank all of you who’ve sent messages of thoughts and prayers. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve never really had to deal with this kind of thing before, so I never really knew how much that meant. We are confident that God is working powerfully for David, and we are so thankful for the prayer warriors out there who are lifting us up. (On a light note, we were visualizing that today as sort of a prayer with a “raise the roof” hand motion. God is good!)

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.

 

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

dancingllama.jpg

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.

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.

What is Your Field of Dreams?

Uncategorized

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.