More than 6,000 school-age children are affected by blood cancers each year, and most children with cancer will attend school at least some of the time during and after their treatment. Because school is a place for learning and fun, children benefit from returning as soon as medically possible. Yet, returning to school can be a very tough adjustment for young survivors. What will other kids think? Did I miss any fun activities? Do I look different? These are just some of the many questions cancer patients have when the time comes for them to return back to school and their regular routine.
To help ease their transition back to school after treatment, LLS and its top national partner, Burlington, have joined forces to surprise more than 100 brave cancer survivors across the country with an exclusive back-to-school shopping-spree for a new head-to-toe look, to give them the extra confidence they need to return to class.
Here are some of the heroic stories of young cancer survivors who LLS and Burlington have brought smiles and styles to…
Bella, 2nd Grader
Albany, New York
When seven-year-old Bella returned to school this fall, she was most excited to see her friends. When she was just four years old, what began as ear infections and strep throat that wouldn’t go away, led to severe bruising and a leukemia diagnosis. She would have multiple hospital visits over two and a half years and 700 infusions of chemotherapy. Bella had to miss most of the first grade due to treatment.
“It was hard for her last year; making friends, being accepted and dealing with all the questions about her illness,” her mom, Nicole Caruso, said. “This year, as a 2nd grader she has a very positive outlook and doesn’t seem to think about being sick so much anymore.”
Bella loves gymnastics and the color pink, which was reflected in her Burlington shopping cart.
Amir, 5th Grader
Ten-year-old leukemia survivor, Amir carried bags worth of clothes and accessories out of his local Burlington store after becoming one of the children picked nationwide to get a surprise shopping spree.
He just returned to school after a year in the hospital to undergo intense treatment. He had to be isolated at home due to his suppressed immune system.
“We know that Amir was really most upset not about having cancer, but missing school,” said Tina Thompson, executive director for the LLS Western PA Chapter.
Amir piled his cart with clothing, a watch and a bag of caramel corn. He said he was excited for the surprise. He will continue to be in treatment for another year and a half, but his immune system is improved enough that he no longer has to be isolated.
Sophia, 1st Grader
Daytona Beach, Florida
Sophia was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2017, about a month after her fifth birthday. She is currently in long term maintenance, and undergoing chemotherapy treatment until October 2019. She was just cleared by her doctors to go back to school this fall.
Sophia is now an active student in the first grade and loves shopping – so running through the aisles at Burlington and picking out whatever she wanted was right up her alley.
“She’s a strong fighter,” her mother, Marlene Costa, said. “The first year of treatment was exhausting for her but she was so excited to go to school. It’s part of that return to normalcy that she craves, and we’re very happy she’s healthy enough now to learn and to play outside and to make new friends.”
For 17 years, Burlington Stores has partnered with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), funding research and lifesaving treatments. Together, they have saved lives and helped bring smiles to those touched by blood cancers, with more than $32 million raised to date.
Customers shopping at any Burlington store now through December 1 can donate at checkout to benefit LLS, helping to find cures for blood cancers. For more information visit Burlington.com or LLS.org.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded today to two scientists whose groundbreaking work led to the development of a class of immunotherapies called checkpoint inhibitors that work by releasing the brakes on the immune system.
James P. Allison, Ph.D., chair of department of immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and director of the Cancer Research Institute Scientific Advisory Council, and Tasuku Honjo, M.D., Ph.D., of Kyoto University School of Medicine for Advanced Study and a professor in the department of immunology and genomic medicine at Kyoto University in Japan, shared the honor.
These game changing therapies, now approved for multiple types of cancers, work by blocking certain proteins that suppress the immune system and allow the cancer cells to hide from the body’s T cells. By blocking the ability of these proteins on the T cells to bind to other proteins on the surface of tumor cells, the T cells are unleashed to track down and kill the cancer cells.
The first immune checkpoint inhibitor was FDA approved in 2011 to treat metastatic melanoma. This approval was followed by others to treat solid tumors such as metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, head and neck cancers, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, urinary tract cancer and others. The first immune checkpoint inhibitor for patients with a blood cancer was approved in 2016 for treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma (HL).
LLS supported key laboratory work to indicate that one of the checkpoint inhibitors might work well in this disease…and it did! There are now two approved checkpoint inhibitors to treat HL, one of which is also approved to treat a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) has, and continues to fund multiple research projects pursuing further understanding of the utility of checkpoint inhibitors in several types of blood cancers.
Allison’s discoveries led to the development of the first FDA-approved checkpoint immunotherapy, the anti-CTLA-4 antibody known as ipilimumab (Yervoy®).
Honjo discovered another immune blocking protein called programmed cell death protein-1 (PD-1). FDA-approved therapies that target PD-1 Include pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) and nivolumab (Opdivo®).
While this particular approach to immunotherapy got its start in the solid tumors, the concept of boosting and deploying the immune system to fight cancer has its roots in blood cancer research, beginning with bone marrow cell transplantation in the 1950s. LLS has supported two other foundational concepts in immunotherapy. The first one is the use of antibodies that bind to and disable specific proteins on the surface of the cancer cells, thus allowing the immune system’s cells to swarm and kill the cancer cells.
These immune checkpoint inhibitors in today’s news are a type of antibody therapy. The first antibody therapy approved for use in cancers was rituximab (Rituxan ®), approved in 1997 to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and later for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. This was quickly followed by the approval of trastuzumab (Herceptin ®) in 1998 by the FDA. Since then, dozens others have followed for multiple types of cancers.
The second effort is to genetically engineer T cells to selectively identify tumor cells and become super-activated upon binding to the tumor cells. This treatment, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, was developed for blood cancers over the past 20 years and is now approved to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia and some types of large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Immunotherapy has become a mainstay therapy to treat blood cancers and other cancers. We salute Drs. Allison and Honjo for their contribution to science and medicine. Your support will enable LLS to maximize the impact of this work to its fullest in this rapidly emerging field of discovery.
What does a mother of three small children do when she hears the words, “You have cancer?” For Sonia Dolinger, her first reaction was to hide in her closet, crying into a pillow so her children couldn’t hear. “It was the scariest moment in my life,” said Sonia. “I mourned the high school graduations and weddings I’d miss, and the chance to have grey hair and one day be called grandma.” She was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
Soon, Sonia realized that if she was going to beat this disease, she needed to stop her wallowing and be her own best advocate. She embarked on an educational journey of self-discovery and cancer research and began reading through patient stories on The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) online forums.
“I read of new treatments that were being tested in clinical trials, and I followed these patients’ remarkable journeys,” said Sonia. “I learned about clinical trials for CLL, and I gained something paramount to any survival story, hope!”
So when Sonia heard of a clinical trial looking for patients needing new treatment options, she enrolled without hesitation.
Today, Sonia is in remission. She currently works with LLS as a fundraising campaign manager and continues to give back.
This fall, 1 million friends, families and co-workers nationwide will gather together to celebrate, honor and remember those touched by cancer at LLS’s Light The Night Walks. Survivors, like Sonia, celebrate within the survivor circle while the white beam of hope reaches up to the sky, illuminating the darkness. Supporters participate in honor of survivors and the strides LLS is making to find cures. Those we have lost are commemorated at the Remembrance Pavilion. The light and warmth generated delivers hope in time of despair, community in place of loneliness and lifesaving research & support for cancer patients and their families.
“Thanks to the support from the LLS, many of these drugs have gone from a twinkle in a scientist’s eye to saving lives!” said Sonia. “As an employee of LLS I’m thrilled to see and hear from patients frequently, many of whom have renewed hope in their fight against cancer.”
As LLS’s National Presenting Sponsor of Survivorship and Hope, Pharmacyclics and Janssen are committed to working with LLS through its Light The Night fundraising campaign to shine a spotlight on what it means to be a cancer survivor.