My brother was 24, a recent graduate of Texas A&M, living in a bachelor pad in Dallas with three of his best buddies, when a friend’s mother, a nurse, noticed the enlarged lymph nodes in his neck, giving him a “Frankenstein” appearance. A subsequent work up at the doctor’s office revealed suspicious lung nodules on his chest x-ray, and the next year and a half became focused on Matt’s treatment for Stage IV Hodgkin lymphoma. It was a very long road, but I’m happy to report that after a stem cell transplant he has remained in remission and is now happily married with two beautiful children in Austin. He beat the odds.
by Alicia Wanek
Chances are, it has touched you somehow. A relative. A friend. Maybe yourself. It seems every week there’s a Facebook post that a friend knows someone else diagnosed with cancer. A cancer diagnosis becomes the marker by which a person’s life is defined—life before cancer and life after diagnosis. It’s a scary word, but today it connotes courage, healing and hope more than ever before.
Cancer is a disease that can affect almost any part of the body, and fortunately there are specialists and organizations to treat almost any type. Resources in the way of referrals, information, support groups and research studies abound. Locally, the Dallas office of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) makes it their mission to fight all blood cancers and to improve the quality of life for patients and their families.
Their mission hit home for me.
And if it seems to you that more people are taking on cancer and winning, you’re right. Consider this: Thirty years ago, half of all children diagnosed with any cancer would not survive, but today that survival rate is as high as 80%. In 1977 the five-year survival rate for leukemia was just 34%; in 2010 it was over 60%. Though Libby Kaczmarek, Community Relations Director for LLS and Brittney Bannon, Development Director for the Children’s Cancer Fund (CCF) remind us that cancer still remains the number one disease-related killer of children in the U.S. and takes over 250 lives worldwide every day.
It’s one of our biggest fears as parents, right? That our children will get a serious illness? Every day 46 children will be diagnosed with cancer. Brittney reports, “For the 1 in 5 courageous children who lose their battle to cancer, the average age of death is 8 years old.” Sadly, despite these heartbreaking numbers, all pediatric cancers combined receive less than 4% of federal funding for cancer research. The CCF specifically aims to help these young patients. Through their fundraising efforts, they have raised over $7 million in the last 30 years while working with Children’s Medical Center (now Children’s Health, where currently 1 in 5 children diagnosed with cancer is treated) and UT Southwestern Medical Center to fund research, a child life specialist position specifically for children with cancer and blood disorders, and programs to investigate the long-term effects of chemotherapy and radiation in children. The challenges children face are different from those of adults, and pediatric cancer patients in Dallas/Fort Worth are fortunate to have CCF fighting for them.
The goal for any organization supporting cancer patients, including CCF, is survival.
EARLY DETECTION IS KEY
Frequently, the number one factor in survival is getting a diagnosis before the disease has progressed too far. For my brother it all started with a simple in-office chest x-ray. Thankfully today, for the newly diagnosed patient, the availability of specialized radiographic images can pinpoint the location of the cancer and help to identify exactly what type of cancer it is.
Envision Imaging, with multiple locations across North Texas, offers state-of-the-art equipment for its patients, whether their doctor has ordered a CT scan, MRI, ultrasound or PET scan. Envision offers a more comfortable, open MRI filled with light and views on all four sides during the procedure.
The PET/CT scan, available at Envision’s south Arlington facility, has become an invaluable tool for radiologists and oncologists in locating the site and size of tumors. More importantly, it can help differentiate benign from malignant growths. Patients are given an injection of radioactive glucose, which is rapidly metabolized by cancer cells. They will then “light up” on radiographic images. Physicians can compare these images over time to determine if a patient is responding to treatment.
More types of cancers are responding to treatment these days thanks to research. The lifesaving research studies today are truly visionary and are tackling the disease in new—but costly—ways. LLS is proud to fund investigators like Dr. Carl June and his team in Philadelphia. They have been able to reprogram the HIV virus so that it can no longer cause disease but retains its ability to alter the immune system to attack cancer cells, specifically leukemia. When asked if he is working to cure cancer, Dr. June responds, “…it’s hard, actually, to think that you might actually succeed.”
GET INVOLVED IN THE FIGHT
You can help by attending the events that are working to make a cure for cancer a reality. LLS offers fundraising events like their Team in Training race program, Light the Night walks, their Big D Climb and Saint Valentine’s Day fashion show and luncheon to benefit all the latest clinical research programs and patient support. Even students can get involved by participating in the Student of the Year program in which top fundraisers can earn a college scholarship and other exciting incentives.
The 1,658,370 people diagnosed with cancer just last year deserve the right treatment—and not just what they get from the doctor. LLS makes it their mission to support everyone affected by one person’s cancer diagnosis. They are excited about their blood cancer conference coming up in September. Top experts will be on hand for nurses as well as patients and their families to explore many aspects affected by cancer—from financial support to sexuality and from wellness to sibling support. This statewide conference will offer a one-of-a-kind opportunity for anyone affected by the disease.
“I can give you ten reasons why I love LLS events, ten reasons why I’m excited about the research, ten reasons why I’m motivated by the stories of loss in our LLS community, and ten reasons why I celebrate the patient success stories,” says Libby. Listening to her, it’s hard not to be equally excited about the prognosis for the future. After all, giving up hope is not an option.