The Whirlwind of Cancer

You know, I’ve always thought cancer was terrible. I’ve always recognized that it generates stories of courage that shames you and tragedy that makes you weep bitterly. But for the last several years I’ve been swept up in the whirlwind that is this disease. Consider the these three folks: We start with Nathan Gentry. I had the privilege to know this wonderful, loving, intelligent, and creative child. He passed away last year, and it was the single greatest tragedy I have personally experienced. His life, primarily as honestly shared through his parents’ blogs has enrinched and transformed my life. Praise God, for Nathan Gentry.
Then there is Matt Dick, the best man in my wedding, my debate partner in matters of faith, a man of endless energy who soon after Nathan was diagnosed turned his efforts to raising money for cancer. Matt has participated in the St. Baldrick’s fundraiser for years, raising literally thousands of dollars to end tragedies like Nathan’s. [*Good as Matt is, I’m still providing a link to donate in the name of your’s truly: Click here to give.
As if that wasn’t enough we move to Elisabeth Villavicencio, MD, PhD. She is a friend of mine who joined the group a little after college, by marriage. Beth is a mom, a fun friend, and so smart it is scary. Oh yeah, at she tries to cure kids of cancer:

As a pediatric oncologist, I am acutely aware of the need for more effective, less toxic drugs for kids with cancer. Our lab’s focus is medulloblastoma, which is the most common malignant brain tumor in
children. While cure rates can be up to 80% for standard risk patients using a combination of neurosurgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, patients under the age of three have only about a 30% chance of cure. Kids who are cured typically have significant side effects from therapy, such as deafness, difficulties with walking, speech difficulties, and growth failure.

Our lab is looking for better drugs for medulloblastoma. We have developed a transgenic mouse model in which the mice get metastatic medulloblastoma. This is really important, because nearly all children who die of medulloblastoma die of metastatic disease. If the candidate drugs we’re testing work to treat medulloblastomas in our mice, we will move the drugs toward clinical trials. We have a great track record in moving drugs from the lab bench to the bedside.

Sadly, it is harder than ever to get research funding. Fewer than 10% of NIH grants are funded. Companies that develop drugs typically focus their research on common adult cancers, since they need to be able to recoup their research and development costs through drug sales. Since pediatric cancer is rare, there will never be profit in developing drugs for this small but very important group of patients. Thus, private funding is critical to finding cures for childhood cancer.

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a group that is making big strides towards curing childhood cancer. Private groups raise money by sponsoring “shavees” to shave their heads in solidarity with children undergoing treatment for cancer. These funds are granted to doctors and scientists doing cutting-edge research in pediatric oncology. Like many physician scientists, I rely on private funding to move my work forward. Children with cancer rely on all of us to find cures for them, fast.

I have little choice but to sacrafice my few wisps of hair to this cause. Click here to give.

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