Last week, three disparate events came together for me in a remarkable way.
I traveled to Washington, D.C. to join cancer leaders from the Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI), the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) to advocate for medical research and cancer research funding. All aspects of cancer research were highlighted in our meetings with congressional representatives, including the importance of cancer clinical trials. We highlighted that the NCI needs to continue to support such studies, including those being conducted through the NCI cooperative groups. In just the past few days, congress passed the 2017 Omnibus appropriations bill that includes a significant increase in funding for the NCI. This governmental support for biomedical research and cancer research is perhaps one of the only remaining examples of bipartisan collaboration in Washington these days, and one that is most welcome.
We formally kicked off our Adolescent Young Adult (AYA) Cancer Program last Saturday with a remarkable symposium featuring presentations and discussion from faculty, staff, and most importantly, patients and their families. This collaborative effort involves the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Stead Family Children’s Hospital, and advocates from the community. It has gotten off to a great start. As AYA director Dr. Bill Terry says, adolescents and young adults with cancer sometime get lost in the gap between “Dora the Explorer” (pediatric cancer) and “AARP Travel and Leisure” (adult cancer). In fact, cancers in the AYA population have unique pathology. AYA patients have unique psychosocial needs. The short and long term side effects of therapy and survivorship in AYA patients have unique characteristics. We are now working together and focusing on addressing these needs more consistently.
Then, out of the blue, I was contacted by B.C. , a former patient. I first met B.C. in 1993 when he was in his 20s and I was an Assistant Professor here at Iowa. B.C. had a very aggressive form of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia that occurs more often in children then in adults. In 1993, management of adults with this form of leukemia was very different from that of children with this leukemia, and survival was much better in children than in adults. We had just initiated a clinical trial designed to explore whether treatments similar to those used in children might be effective in younger adults. This was a highly innovative concept at the time but is now accepted therapy. B.C. signed up for the trial. He had a stormy course due to both the aggressive nature of his leukemia and the intensity of therapy. Nevertheless, with the help of an amazing attitude and a very supportive family, he made it through. We followed him for a couple of years after diagnosis before giving him his “walking papers.” Fast forward 20 years, and B.C. stops by my office to say hello.
Looking at these three events together really brings the past, present and future together for me.
Past – B.C. was at the forefront of AYA cancer therapy at Iowa (although we didn’t call it “AYA” at the time) as we worked to cross the artificial lines between pediatric and adult cancer therapy. How wonderful that B.C. has lived a happy and productive life for 20 years after his cancer diagnosis.
Present – The University of Iowa AYA Cancer Program is off to an excellent start. Our AYA Cancer Program has superb leadership, outstanding staff, and committed community support. We have the potential to be a national leader in the field.
Future – With governmental support for cancer research through the NCI, combined with philanthropic support and private-public partnerships with industry, we expect to be able to accelerate the current rate of research progress in cancer, and more importantly, bring research advances to our patients so we can have more stories like B.C.’s
And, with B.C.’s permission, here are a few photos (past and present – we will need to wait for the future picture). What better way to illustrate why we do what we do…