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.

 

Working Together for A Brighter Future

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This week I had the great pleasure of speaking with Dr. Peter Adamson, Group Chair of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). For those of you unfamiliar with COG, more than 90% of  children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States are cared for at Children’s Oncology Group member institutions. Their goal is to cure all children and adolescents with cancer, reduce the short and long-term complications of cancer treatments, and determine the causes and find ways to prevent childhood cancer. That matches our mission pretty well, so I was excited to learn where we might be able to collaborate.

COG is currently focused on collecting biospecimens and clinical data. In layman’s terms, they are collecting cancer specimens (tissue, blood, etc) as well ad information on the child’s diagnosis, treatment and outcome. They have collected a massive amount of data over the past 50 years. They have well over a million biospecimens! More than 350,000 patients have shared data with them. They have biorepositories and databases in different parts of the country and work with over 220 hospitals in the US & Canada.

I am very impressed by what they have accomplished, but ultimately, I believe that the infrastructure we are building can improve the work they are doing. Their focus is collecting the specimens and data. Our focus is taking those specimens and data and making them a perpetual resource backed by robust computational power to allow them to collaborate with other researchers and also analyze and visualize the data in new ways.

To give you some idea of the scale of the data, let’s look at the numbers. There are approximately 14,000 children a year diagnosed with cancer in the US. Collecting a biospecimen would cost somewhere in the range of $1,000. (The NIH currently values that at around $500, but the actual institutional cost is thought to be much higher, thus my $1,000 figure.) So just to collect the biospecimens for those patients, you are looking at $140,000 per year. However, that is just scratching the surface of what needs to be done. Those specimens have to be stored (visualize giant freezers with robots to access the individual samples), categorized, and matched with corresponding clinical records.

Traditionally, most hospitals and foundations have been unwilling and/or unable to invest in the infrastructure that it would take to compile this amount of data. COG demonstrated real vision by collecting this data and they have been able to use it to forward science. Dragon Master Foundation believes that additional computational power, or “big data” analytics, will help them find the cures they seek even faster.

Dr. Adamson said he felt Dragon Master Foundation is taking “a sophisticated look at the challenge.” We know that building this type of computational infrastructure will be expensive, but we also know that it will exponentially decrease the amount of time it takes for researchers to collect and query data. Faster answers to their questions means faster cures for us.

There is no doubt in my mind that we are building a resource that will improve cancer research. It ultimately will help cancer researchers throughout the US, and probably throughout the world. It will make the work they have been doing for years more relevant.

To learn more about Dragon Master Foundation, please visit http://www.dragonmasterfoundation.org. To learn more about the Children’s Oncology Group, please visit projecteverychild.org or childrensoncologygroup.org .

52 People You Need to Meet: #37 Sue Jarvis

52 People To Meet Posts

Sue & Megan Jarvis

Our daughter, Megan, had suffered from headaches for years which doctors said were migraines. However, on December 1, 2004, an MRI revealed our worst nightmare. We got the news no parent wants to hear – “your daughter has a brain tumor.” Our lives would be changed forever that day.

A biopsy revealed a grade two Oligoastrocytoma.   After three surgeries and years of chemo, fast-forward to August 2009, her tumor had now progressed to a grade four Glioblastoma.   This time treatment would be radiation and more chemo. Fast-forward to February 2012, more words no parent wants to hear – “Megan’s tumor is growing, and we have run out of options. “ Basically, nothing more we can do for your daughter, and then I asked the dreaded question – how much time does she have, and the dreaded answer – six months. So we took that special trip, had fun with family and friends, ate good food and we didn’t focus on what was going to happen tomorrow.

On August 10, 2012, Megan passed away from this terrible disease. It was a long journey of so many ups and downs that Megan handled with such grace and dignity – never complaining. She had a beautiful spirit that shined through in how to live day-by-day with the challenges of a terminal illness.

Six months after Megan’s death, I found the following paper she wrote for an English class at Old Dominion University. The paper was a hidden gift to us, as Megan was very private about her illness. It gives such an insight as to what life is like with a brain tumor. Megan just wanted to live a normal life like any young adult.

“English 101
Megan Jarvis
March 6, 2008

I believe that life is something that should never be taken for granted. In my first year at college I have met many people who do this every single day, not thinking anything will happen to them; that they are untouchable. I, like any young healthy person, thought that I would be fine forever, but realized that disease does not discriminate. It can affect anyone at any time, no matter how perfect they think their life is.

When I was sixteen years old I found out I had a brain tumor. I had three major surgeries, each setting me back physically and mentally. I had to deal with pain, speech therapy, seizures, chemotherapy and radiation. It has been hard, but it has helped me understand how precious every little thing in one’s life is. Since the surgeries it has been hard for me to remember my friend’s name, drink a cup of coffee, drive a car, swim, or play my piano. It is even more difficult to take a piece of paper and write my thoughts into words. Another thing that is different is all of the medication I am on. Before this I never took any medicine, and now I can’t go a day without it. It is a lot to remember and also come many side effects. The worst is when I become toxic, which has happened many times. This hurts me the most by having to miss important things, like school. I had to be home-schooled part of my senior year. I have lost almost all of my short-term memory and have trouble finding words. This can be very frustrating.

With things being the way they are, it is distressing for me to see people act in ways that are so perilous and think nothing of it. They won’t wear their seatbelt in their car; they don’t need it. They start smoking cigarettes; it makes them look cool. Lying out in the sun all day is smart and makes them look better. And after all of these things, they believe they are so healthy that they have no need for medical insurance. Then they start with their complaints – I’m not getting paid enough, I don’t like my car, I’m not tall enough, my clothes aren’t pretty enough. I want to tell them to stop wasting their time complaining about these petty things that don’t mean anything. Start appreciating things that do matter. Volunteering in a hospital I have met many elderly people with terminal diseases. When talking to them, almost all say that their sickness is due to decisions they made when they were young.

I met a person at school and when I told him about my situation, he was surprised at the way I was living my life. He said with something like this I needed to carpe diem, or “seize the day”. That was the motto by which he lived. And I did agree with him. Eat, drink, and be merry is something everyone should do; live a happy life. But don’t lose concern for the future. I told him my saying is memento mori, “remember that you are mortal”. Life is something that’s value should not be underestimated.

I know what I have experienced is more than significant. It has completely changed my life. Everything now is opposite of what I had planned it to be. It did have some good with it though. I was able to meet so many great people, people who have gone through much more than me. It showed me that I have more friends than I ever thought I did. It showed me how kind people are, but unfortunately how unkind others can be.

I am strong inside, not fearful of my future. I don’t look ahead, just the present. I don’t even know what I am doing tomorrow. I was never scared of what was going to happen to me, and I was the one holding up my family through the ordeal. I don’t know what I want for the immediate future. I think my goal is to just get through another day and see what happens from there.

My life is nowhere close to where it was before any of this happened, but I wouldn’t change anything.”

Megan had wisdom beyond her years like so many children and young adults who have to deal with cancer. Their lives remind us that it’s not the number of years we are given, but how we use them.

The question of what I wish I knew before Megan was diagnosed. I wish this were all a bad dream! I wish I wasn’t in the grieving parent club that I didn’t ask to join. Someone I knew who had also passed away from a brain tumor last words still stay etched in my mind.   Confront reality, confront the end.

I thought I knew what life would be like after Megan was gone. I thought I would be prepared. But no one can be prepared for death, let alone the death of their own child. I knew how this story would end.  After all, you don’t read of too many people living a long, full-life with a GBM. Sometimes statistics don’t lie. But that’s not to say we ever gave up hope. I grieved for many years being her mother and primary caregiver and watching her go through so much pain and suffering. That grief journey is over and now I’m on a new journey. Learning to live with the loneliness and emptiness. Learning to live with the reality that my hopes, dreams and future for Megan – gone. All the thoughts of what could have been, should have been, would have been – gone. From the time Megan was little, she always wanted to be a doctor – ironically, a Neurosurgeon.

So for my future – I will strive to live my life with Megan’s positive attitude, courage, perseverance, compassion, faith and living for today like there may be no tomorrow on this earth. I do believe there is hope that each day can get better – it’s a minute-by-minute process that may take me a lifetime to achieve.

Megan, may the wind be always at your back, and may the sun shine warm upon your face. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Love Mom

We Have Three Months

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February, March, and April. That is what stands between us and Brain Tumor Awareness Month. There is a lot of work to be done if we want to see real change this year. Last May, I posted some tips, but by then it is too late. If we want to see gray in May, we need to start asking now. Please take a few minutes to write to your favorite newspaper, tv station, magazine, etc and tell them about brain tumors and brain cancer. The more people who do this, the more they will understand it is a story their readers/viewers care about.

Now is also the time to plan your events for May. We are working on Concert to Cure (slight name change from last year) in Wichita, and we are lending what support we can to other events around the country. Race for Hope in Des Moines is in its second year, and they have big fundraising goals for this year. I’d love to hear about what is planned in your area. Please post a link, and I’ll try to get events posted on the Operation: ABC “Annihilate Brain Cancer” Facebook page.

In the meanwhile, if you are looking for some inspiration, or just need a cool new shirt, check out this great design to benefit both Dragon Master Foundation and National Brain Tumor Society:

http://www.zazzle.com/brain_tumor_awareness_t_shirt-235201354207178397?color=purple&size=a_m&style=basic_tshirt_light&view=113158993915508071

52 People You Need To Meet

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2014 Resolution

With 2013 drawing to a close, I have been wondering what I can do to make 2014 really stand out as a year we draw attention to brain cancer. My son was diagnosed in 2010. He passed away in 2012. And here we are, almost to 2014, and virtually nothing has changed. I mean, I know that my circle of friends is hyper-aware of brain cancer now, but the world at large still isn’t. No new treatments have come along that are helping patients beat this disease. Even today, a little boy is being laid to rest from “Stage 3” brain cancer. I know all cancers are bad. I know. But it is somehow more insidious when it is in their head. When it can’t be touched by surgery or most other treatments. When you can’t see it growing, but it is killing you all the same. I can think of few things more horrible than brain cancer, and since it is the one I’m most acquainted with, it is the one I’m charged with changing. So back to my pondering… How do we make a difference in 2014?

The first thing is make a more regular effort to bring awareness. As you can tell from my posts, I don’t feel inspired to write blog posts every day. Regular posts, however, are the best way to keep brain cancer awareness as a “top of mind” topic. So I had an idea. Why not get some of my friends to help by writing guest posts? It occurred to me that in my caregiver support group, we have over 200 people, so even if they were the only ones who responded, we could fill each week with people to spare. I tossed the idea out to them and the response was overwhelming! So we are on!! Each week in 2014, we will share something with you from this writing prompt:

“What I wish I knew before my_____ was diagnosed with cancer.”

It might be their husband, daughter, best friend, or cousin. It might even be someone they never met!  We want to raise awareness for brain cancer research, but in the process, we think these stories can give families and friends the tools they need to fight together as a team. To ask the right questions. To offer the right comfort. To be on fire for a cure.

These people are all passionate about helping others and raising awareness for cancer research. There will be at least 52 different people with different perspectives who have a message for you. I’m really excited to see what 2014 will hold! I hope you will join us on this journey, and share these posts with your friends.