As National Cancer Research Month (May) winds down, it seems timely to reflect on progress in cancer treatments. And that is precisely what we will do this weekend.
This is the weekend Chicago would typically be flooded with more than 40,000 researchers, clinicians, pharmaceutical company reps, media and cancer advocacy organizations as the annual host of the world’s biggest cancer conference. But like all other large events around the globe, the American Society of Clinical Oncology was forced to move their #ASCO20 meeting to a virtual platform. Beginning Friday and running through this weekend, researchers are presenting their latest findings from cancer clinical trials, and cancer professionals from every facet of the field are sharing ideas and pressing for more advocacy on behalf of cancer patients.
The Shadow of COVID-19
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing this change to a virtual format, a prevalent topic has been treating cancer patients amidst the novel coronavirus crisis. ASCO President Howard A. Burris III, MD, FACP, FASCO, opened the meeting this morning with remarks acknowledging that cancer patient are among the most vulnerable to the dangers of this virus. Blood cancer patients are particularly hard hit. A study published in The Lancet and presented by a group of researchers on Friday showed that patients whose cancer was progressing at the time they became afflicted with the COVID-19 virus are at increased risk of death from the virus - more than five times more likely to die within a month.
Further, findings show that treatment with the controversial combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin is also strongly associated with greater risk of death. However, other scientists wordwide are now questioning the findings and data of this massive study so further investigation is clearly needed. (* Update: on June 4 The Lancet announced that the researchers had retracted their studies regarding hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine).
Burris also discussed a COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium registry comprising more than 100 cancer centers collecting data on a large scale of cancer patients impacted by COVID-19.
“The cancer care community urgently needs data on the effects of COVID-19, specifically in patients with cancer,” Burris said “How we improve the care we provide these patients and reduce the number of deaths and severe consequences associated with this disease are among the top questions. The registry contains data from patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and around 40% of patients in the registry also have active cancer.
As schools and education communities across the country have had to adjust to a new way of learning online, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Pennies for Patients program (www.penniesforpatients.org), a science-based service-learning program for schools, has shifted in-person school learning events to a virtual semi-weekly STEM+ curriculum program to inspire the next generation of scientists and doctors.
Through an educational “Facebook live” video series on LLS’s Facebook page called Hero Squad Live, host Elizabeth Matthews, a campaign manager for the Arizona Chapter at LLS, often referred to as “Ms. Elizabeth,” provides a 15-minute learning activity for children on Tuesdays and Thursday at 2:00 pm ET.
Each episode features a different lesson and activity from the LLS STEM+ Curriculum. Children can complete each exercise along with Elizabeth, ask questions, and even submit their projects to be featured in the next episode.
“I am learning new skills as we go through this process, from implementing new software to being my own producer and video editor — it has been a real exercise for my brain, “ said Elizabeth. “Knowing we are educating and hopefully inspiring the next generations of scientists and doctors really is the cherry on top.”
Elizabeth elaborates on how this idea came to fruition, “I have a performance past and I used to be a musical theatre performer before I made the switch to nonprofit, so with my performer skills, and this amazing curriculum, the idea was born. We know the world is changing, so we have to change with it."
She emphasized, “We have an amazing free and educational STEM that we have been sharing with our partnered schools and districts to help supplement education during these strange times. We knew we just needed to do more."
The adage, “We are all fighting the same storm, but we are not fighting it from the same boat,” is more relevant amidst today’s global pandemic than ever before. This resonates particularly true for cancer patients, who are at increased risk of getting sicker if they contract COVID-19.
“Cancer will not wait for COVID-19 to go away,” says Gwen Nichols, MD, LLS Chief Medical Officer at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), a global leader in the fight against cancer. “And the patients we serve can’t wait either. Every nine minutes, somebody in the U.S. dies of a blood cancer, and there is no means of prevention — they need us now, more than ever.”
Individuals and communities nationwide are tapping into their inner creativity and survival skills to pivot to, at least for now, a virtual way of living. LLS is also tapping into its rich 70-year history of innovation to solve the most pressing challenges in the cancer arena and reinvent the current methods to fundraise for its lifesaving work.
Its signature fundraisers have helped LLS invest nearly $1.3 billion in cutting edge research worldwide, fueling nearly every critical advancement in blood cancer treatment that spans the most promising treatment approaches now being tested in clinical trials for other cancers and diseases, including COVID-19.
With scheduled in-person fundraising events off the calendar, LLS is encouraging individuals, families and communities across the country to join one of its many virtual fundraising campaigns to make a difference in the fight against cancer and to literally, save lives.
“Every single dollar makes a difference,” says Dr. Nichols. “From the comfort of your home or responsibly, in your own communities, you can still make an impact in the lives of cancer patients. The COVID-19 pandemic won’t stop us from uniting as a force in the fight against cancer, a disease that has impacted us all, for far too long.”
Dr. Nichols shares some of the ways you can get involved:
Big Virtual Climb, LLS’s latest innovation in peer-to-peer fundraising, is your chance to stay fit and connect with others across the nation. On June 13, we will climb virtually up 61 stories and 1,762 steps of San Francisco’s iconic Salesforce Tower as one from coast to coast.
Pennies for Patients is rolling out new free resources for schools in need, including STEM+ activities, tools to support children with social and emotional learning, and Hero Squad Live virtual classes for children on Facebook.
Team In Training offers several virtual endurance training options to choose from so that we can support our teammates and beat cancer to the finish line.
Man & Woman of the Year and Students of the Year campaigns are motivating passionate individuals and teams virtually to raise funds, culminating in incredibly meaningful Grand Finale virtual experiences to celebrate their tireless work and dedication.
Light The Night Walk brings light to the darkness of cancer, and you can be sure LLS will create a new kind of event experience that’s as inspirational as ever to our legions of supporters across the country, to celebrate, honor or remember those touched by cancer.
The funds raised through LLS’s fundraising campaigns are used for:
Research to advance targeted therapies and immunotherapies that are saving thousands of lives;
Blood cancer information, education and support for patients;
Policies that ensure patients have access to blood cancer treatments.