2022-my 13th PMC and Julie's 18 year (no)Cancer Anniversary!
It's easy to look around and see a world in turmoil, with chaos and destruction at every corner. However, with this view, it's equally easy to get distracted and accidentally overlook the demonstrations of solidarity that are all around us - the proof that we can do big things, productive things, even amazing things, by working together in unison.
A career in cancer research is a commitment of solidarity to a cause that's bigger than any of us. While basic discoveries often come from individuals, making these discoveries work for society, and for patients, requires a deep and sustained sense of solidarity of purpose towards a common cause.
The unity that comes from this shared cause - accelerating cancer cures together through discovery and implementation of new ideas in the clinic - is tremendously grounding and stabilizing. What's remarkable about the annual ritual of raising funds for the PMC is the community spirit of solidarity that comes with it. The idea that for a brief moment, thousands of individuals are making curing cancer their fight is an antidote to the terrible headlines.
I'm riding the PMC once again this year to hold myself accountable to helping to raise the necessary funds to help (in a small way) usher in a new era of solidarity for cancer research in the US. This is the moment!
As always, our fundraising will support the Head and Neck Cancer Research Fund at DFCI.
It's an extraordinary moment for cancer. New treatments are showing unbelivable results, leading to lasting responses for tumor types believed to be universally lethal only 5 years ago. The energy, excitement and optimism felt by scientists and clinicians is being accelerated further by national movements which are stimulating collaboration, sharing and engagement across institutions. Cancer patients are taking center stage and boldly sharing their results and data with researchers and with each other. Their voices and partnership are moving the entire enterprise faster than ever before. It's all pretty breathtaking.
However, while conditions are improving, funding for translational research at the levels critical to support these efforts is in jeopardy and it's unclear whether the bold research that will truly have the greatest impact will be supported by increasingly risk adverse granting agencies. Philanthropy is rapidly becoming a critical component of accelerated cancer therapeutics research. Your dollars and voice are needed.
Now 19 years ago, Julie and I rode the 2003 PMC at the age of 24/25. We recognized the importance of the event and were proud of our contributions. We participated to assist in the philanthropic efforts of DFCI, where Jesse was training for his Ph.D. in Cancer Biology as well to challenge ourselves to ride 110 miles in a single summer day. However, we did not recognize how much our own perspective of the cancer experience, innocent and naïve at the time, would become interwoven in the PMC narrative.
Julie’s unexpected diagnosis of tongue cancer in 2004 brought our carefree lives to a screeching halt. We proceeded to live through the emotional highs and lows of a year-long treatment regimen and were confronted with the recognition that our futures were not at all certain. The work of DFCI researchers and clinicians, funded in large part by the PMC, was now a vital lifesaving force. Via my research, Jesse hoped to ultimately make important contributions towards helping design improved therapies for future generations of cancer patients. However, at the time, the important patient was Julie and the relevant lab experiments were those that had helped design her treatment regimen during previous decades.
Our story was ultimately a happy one. An engagement, wedding, the birth of our sons (Max and Myles), Ph.D. and Master’s graduations, new jobs teaching biology (Julie) and unraveling the mysteries of Cancer Biology (Jesse) have been highlights of the 19 years since, punctuated by a long recovery, many doctors appointments and the pursuit of “normal” lives.
Many are not this fortunate.
The future of precision cancer medicine, where each patient's treatment can be guided by the molecular blueprint of the cell types and genetics of his/her individual tumor is getting closer. Blood biopsy technology now enables genomic analysis of most advanced tumors from a simple tube of blood! New treatments are speeding towards the clinic, and new immune-harnessing drugs are showing amazing promise. Social media is enabling patients to work together to share data, find clinical trials and engage researchers. The question is no longer whether this future will come to pass, the question now is how fast it can come.
Please consider supporting my 2022 PMC ride. Our fundraising dollars will be directed towards the Head and Neck Cancer Research Fund at DFCI.