100 years of cancer survivorship and counting: The journey to cure

December 20, 2012 | by Hiu Chung So

One hundred years of cancer survivorship looks much different than it did not too long ago. In the near future, it will look even different. We'll explain — and illustrate.

Rendering of City of Hope's 2013 Rose Parade Float "Journey to Cure" Rendering of City of Hope's 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade float, "Journey to Cure."

There was a time, in the recent past in fact, when cancer patients had access to few effective treatments, and the time between diagnosis and death was short. It was so short that — were one to add up the months and years between diagnosis and death —  it would have taken many patients to reach the 100-years-of-life mark. No more.

Five participants in the upcoming Tournament of Roses Parade exemplify the longer lifespans, and hope, now available to cancer patients. These five participants — all cancer survivors, all former City of Hope patients — will be aboard City of Hope's float in the upcoming parade. Their combined survival since diagnosis totals 100 years.

That number is symbolic at City of Hope.

For starters, it represents the City of Hope centennial: We celebrate our 100-year anniversary in 2013. But the number also signifies how far we've come and how far we have to go.  In our first 100 years, we shepherded numerous discoveries and treatments into reality, giving additional life to patients and giving additional time to their loved ones. In our second 100 years, we hope to go even further. We hope to cure cancer.

Ultimately, 100 years of survivorship after a cancer diagnosis should be determined only by the confines of normal aging.

The float on which these survivors will ride is similarly symbolic. The float, named "Journey to Cure," is a laboratory-themed float representing City of Hope’s strides in research and treatment of life-threatening diseases.

“It is a delight to be able to kick off our centennial celebration in such a spectacular manner,” said Michael A. Friedman, M.D., chief executive officer and holder of the Irell & Manella Cancer Center Director’s Distinguished Chair at City of Hope. “The design is evocative and symbolic of the values that have been integral to our mission over the past century and well into the future."

The centerpiece of this year’s float is a gigantic laboratory setting, featuring a 25-foot-tall microscope, a Bunsen burner with rotating "flames" and assorted lab glassware — all representing City of Hope’s dedication to innovative science and novel therapies. In our first 100 years, City of Hope’s research has led to:

• Technology that is used to build targeted, “smart” cancer drugs, such as Herceptin, Avastin and Rituxan.

• The development of Humulin, the first synthetic insulin that is now used worldwide by millions of people living with diabetes.

• Numerous improvements in bone marrow transplantation, making it more effective against blood cancers and other disorders.

• Advanced laparoscopic and robotically assisted surgical techniques that are less invasive, allowing patients to recover faster with fewer side effects.

• Studies into gene transfer therapy’s capability to target, and potentially halt, HIV infection.

• Clinical trials using neural stem cells to target and help treat tumors that are otherwise inaccessible.

Today, we can save patients who couldn't be saved in the past. In the future, we'll be able to save patients who can't be saved today. The fight against cancer is a journey — the journey to cure.

Joining the patients on their parade journey and on the larger journey are the other five riders of the float, all leaders in patient care, research and philanthropy:

Alexandra Levine, M.D., City of Hope's chief medical officer who is internationally renowned for her HIV/AIDS research and her compassionate, whole-patient philosophy to care. (She was recently featured as a community hero by the Pasadena Star-News and San Gabriel Valley Tribune.)

Stephen J. Forman, M.D., chair of the bone marrow transplantation program who has developed and improved this treatment for a variety of blood cancers and disorders.

Arthur Riggs, Ph.D., a scientist whose research led to the development of synthetic insulin and targeted cancer therapies.

• Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., R.N., a nursing researcher well-known for her studies and education in palliative and end-of-life care.

Sheri Biller, philanthropist and chair of the board of directors whose generosity led to the formation of the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center.

In addition to the 10 riders, there will be 30 City of Hope staff and volunteers walking alongside the float, showcasing the widespread foundation of talent, commitment and support needed to drive City of Hope’s towards its "Journey to Cure."

As we journey into our next 100 years, we will adhere to our credo: “There is no profit in curing the body if in the process we destroy the soul.”

The patients themselves embody that best.

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