**This blog piece was written by Judy F. Minkove on the Communal Art Project

Picture This Page 8I’m so proud of you, Mom … I love you beyond reason … Hope you’re jammin’ in Heaven … are among hundreds of poignant messages that form an artistic expression of love and loss at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Each May, the center holds a service of remembrance to honor patients who died of cancer during the previous year. As part of the ceremony, family members and friends write notes to lost loved ones on strips of muslin cloth, then insert them into a wire and tulle sculpture (see backdrop).

After oncology chaplain Rhonda Cooper documents all of the notes, staff members volunteer time to braid them into a rope, which is now more than 50 feet long. Ultimately it will form a sculpture of an urn. Community artist Cinder Hypki, left, who conceived and designed the therapeutic art project, says it “allows for very private and collaborative public grief, longing and celebration of loved ones. Their words are transformed into a symbol of strength in unity.”

Seated beside Hypki are volunteer braiders Colleen Apostol, Weinberg 5A and 5B nurse manager, and Pain and Palliative Care Program nurse coordinator Lynn Billing.

Rachel and me at Sam's weddingThe sixth annual Service of Remembrance is scheduled for May 14 at 7 p.m. in the Weinberg Ceremonial Lobby.

Last year, I had the privilege of speaking at the Service of Remembrance about my personal experience with loss (our beautiful 28-year-old daughter died of lymphoma in July 2012) and how it shaped my understanding of hope. Afterward, when I saw people running to tables to write little messages for the sculpture pictured above, I hesitated to join them.

Honestly, the whole idea seemed hokey to me. But then I heard the buzz. I watched as hundreds of guests embraced caregivers and friends and caught up, exchanging laughter and tears. And I saw the urgency on their faces as they grabbed markers and wrote messages to loved ones.

Seconds later, I felt compelled to do the same.

I can’t quite capture how that felt. It seemed like an out-of-body experience. But I do know this: As I wrote on that tiny slip of cloth to acknowledge Rachel’s caregivers and to send my daughter a personal message, I felt empowered and uplifted. And I saw radiance wherever I turned.

Thank you, Cinder, Rhonda, Lynn and the other kind folks involved in orchestrating this beautiful project. For me and for many others there that night, participating in this effort provided a memorable touchstone—or as Cinder calls it, a healing ritual.

Learn more about the art project.

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Thousands of cancer researchers are meeting at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) 2015 Annual Meeting where the first research abstracts highlighted to the media included experimental immunotherapy applications to three kinds of advanced cancers: melanoma, lung cancer, and virus-associated lymphoma and leukemia in patients receiving bone marrow transplants.

Johns Hopkins melanoma and immunotherapy expert Suzanne Topalian moderated the press briefing on Sunday, April 19.

First, Antoni Ribas from UCLA presented data comparing two different types of immunotherapy drugs for melanoma: one that blocks the PD-1 receptor (pembrolizumab) and the other that blocks CTLA-4 (ipilimumab). Ribas and his team found that response rates nearly tripled, and progression-free survival and overall survival both improved significantly in patients who received pembrolizumab compared with ipilimumab. According to Topalian, ipilimumab approval by the FDA in 2011 was a landmark point, signaling the first drug of any kind to show a survival advantage for patients with advanced melanoma in a randomized trial. "Ipilimumab is now the gold standard by which everything is measured," said Topalian. " With the new data, both Topalian and Ribas say a change in the treatment landscape for melanoma is happening.

Next, Edward Garon from UCLA presented data on another immunotherapy drug that targets PD-L1 proteins in a trial of lung cancer patients. The trial also evaluated a potential biomarker for response to the immunotherapy drug class. According to the research team, most of the patients receiving the immunotherapy drug had better outcomes than would be expected with standard therapies. But results of the biomarker to predict outcomes were less clear as the range of responses to the immunotherapy drug varied over the spectrum of biomarker levels in evaluated patients. Patients with more expression of the biomarker experienced more favorable outcomes than those who had lesser expression, but, according to Topalian, "even patients with lower expression [levels of the biomarker] have good outcomes." What does this mean for patients and clinicians? According to Garon, the pursuit for more biomarkers, particularly those that can predict the level of response, continues.

Finally, Richard O'Reilly from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center presented data that demonstrates, according to Topalian, "the power of T-lymphocytes to eradicate cancer." O'Reilly and his team conducted a clinical trial to test a new immune-based treatment to treat a lethal complication of bone marrow transplantation called Epstein-Barr virus-associated lymphoproliferative disorder. The research team created a bank of immune system cells called T cells, taken from the blood of individuals without cancer, which responded to proteins associated with the Epstein-Barr virus. In patients experiencing the BMT-related complication, the research team compared this type of "banked" treatment taken from third-party healthy individuals with a similar type of T-cell treatment created from each patient's donor T cells. O'Reilly said that outcomes of transplants were similar using the T cell treatment from both third-party "banked" and transplant donor sources. The advantage, he said, is that banked treatments are immediately available to patients in need of rapid therapy.

Also included in a news briefing for the media was a preliminary human study of immunotherapy in triple-negative breast cancer, presented by Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center oncologist Leisha Emens. Emens said results show the immune-based therapy is "generally safe and well tolerated" in women with metastatic, triple-negative breast cancer, a persistently difficult form of the disease to treat.

 

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Michele Fountain

For Michele Fountain, a second-year cyclist in the Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, Sibley Memorial Hospital, Suburban Hospital and Howard County General Hospital, there is more than one reason why she gears up and rides. Having worked at Johns Hopkins for over 30 years—12 of which have been spent within the Kimmel Cancer Center—Michele feels compelled to ride. “It’s been a privilege to be a part of the Cancer Center’s family,” she says. “I’ve met so many dedicated people working hard each day to change the course of cancer, and I feel like I want to give back. This is the way to do it.”

Michele is also motivated for a more personal reason. “I lost my husband to cancer three years ago,” she says. “He was a patient at the Cancer Center for many years, and it was through his care and treatment here that I truly learned to appreciate the commitment of the physicians, the nurses and the staff. They have all been an inspiration to me, and I’ll be forever grateful.”

Having successfully completed her first two-day, 150-mile ride at the inaugural event last fall, Michele is even more committed to the cause now. “In the second year riding, I think I’m addicted. The 2014 ride was probably one of the most rewarding, challenging experiences of my life,” she says.

Of course, no matter how deeply connected one may be to the fight to conquer cancer, there is no denying that the ride is a challenge. From the physical training process to mastering the intricacies of fundraising, Michele asserts that it’s challenging. “But once you have the mindset that it’s a ride, not a race, and you’ve got all of these amazing people riding with you of all ages—some survivors, some expert cyclists and some just like me—that makes all the difference.”

In addition to the physical challenge of the event, the $2,500 minimum fundraising requirement for each rider can certainly seem intimidating at first. But Michele, who successfully raised over $9,000 toward last year’s event, offers this advice: “If you reach out to everyone you know—professionally, personally, your family and friends—and share a little bit of your story, that really hits home for people. This is something that impacts everyone, and there’s camaraderie in that.”

As for this year’s event, which takes place on Sept. 19 and 20, 2015, Michele is more motivated than ever. “I want to be part of this team,” she says. “We are all working toward the same goal of conquering cancer. I know in my heart that we are getting closer every day. It might not be in my lifetime, but it will hopefully be in my children’s and grandchildren’s lifetime, so to be a part of the ride is an honor to me.”

And for those who may still be on the fence about accepting the challenge to conquer cancer together, Michele shares these words: “I just can’t express how rewarding it was to get to that finish line. I knew in my mind that I wanted to do it, that was my goal. But 150 miles? That was an amazing feeling.”

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Overlea High SchoolOn March 26, 2015, a committed group of students at Overlea High School proudly presented the Kimmel Cancer Center with the funds they had raised to support the Breast Cancer Program and the patients and families whom it benefits. Under the guidance of their teacher, Mrs. Mary Demski, the students worked together to plan multiple fundraising events, including hosting a walk-a-thon on the school’s track and creating pink bracelets and t-shirts to help raise funds and awareness across the Overlea campus. Even the faculty and staff got involved in showing their support for the innovative research in breast cancer prevention, treatment, and survivorship that is taking place here at Johns Hopkins, donning pink t-shirts to help raise awareness for this cause and for the students’ efforts. Together, the students raised over $550 to help provide support to patients and families who are affected by breast cancer when they need it most. Thanks to the inspiring dedication of these students, our clinicians and scientists are one step closer to fulfilling our promise towards progress in conquering this difficult disease.

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We've asked our staff to share their thoughts on the PBS documentary, Cancer: Emperor of All Maladies. This week, we'll post their comments, including how they hope it will influence the public dialogue on cancer, research and treatment.

Ephraim Fuchs, M.D., M.B.A., professor of oncology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center shares his thoughts:Ephraim Fuchs

I hope that the documentary will show that there is no activity that better exemplifies the US Constitution’s principle of promoting the general welfare, than research, to alleviate the suffering of patients with cancer.
 
I hope that the documentary stimulates the initiation of a Manhattan project to cure cancer.

The six-hour documentary series that tells the story of cancer based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. The documentary, billed by its producers as one of the most comprehensive of its kind yet made, features several patient stories and interviews conducted with clinicians and scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

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We've asked our staff to share their thoughts on the PBS documentary, Cancer: Emperor of All Maladies. This week, we'll post their comments, including how they hope it will influence the public dialogue on cancer, research and treatment.

Terry LangbaumTerry Langbaum, MHS, Chief Administrative Officer at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, shares her thoughts:

We are hoping that this documentary will raise awareness about the progress that has been made in treating and curing cancer over the last 50 years, and the hopeful and exciting era that is upon us for further gains in preventing, treating and curing cancer in the near future.
 
I’m hoping that it will focus public dialogue on the needs of cancer patients, including access to educational resources, psychosocial services and supportive care, and the challenges of cancer survivors as they go on to live healthy and productive lives beyond cancer.

The three-part, six-hour documentary series tells the story of cancer based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. The documentary, billed by its producers as one of the most comprehensive of its kind yet made, features several patient stories and interviews conducted with clinicians and scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

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We've asked our staff to share their thoughts on the PBS documentary, Cancer: Emperor of All Maladies. This week, we'll post their comments, including how they hope it will influence the public dialogue on cancer, research and treatment.

Vered StearnsVered Stearns, M.D., co-director of the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Program shares her thoughts:

Cancer is a spectrum of multiple illnesses. In some instances we have made substantial advances, and cures are possible. In other situations, cancer continues to be deadly. Regardless, cancer brings devastation and sorrow both to those diagnosed with the illness and to their loved ones. I hope that the PBS documentary will provide the public with an understanding of the complexity surrounding this malady and how intricate treatment decisions are. I hope to share our excitement for future individualized treatment and prevention strategies, and successful transitions to thrive beyond cancer.

Tune into PBS stations nationwide, March 30, 31 and April 1 to watch the three-part, six-hour documentary series that tells the story of cancer based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. The documentary, billed by its producers as one of the most comprehensive of its kind yet made, features several patient stories and interviews conducted with clinicians and scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

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We've asked our staff to share their thoughts on the PBS documentary, Cancer: Emperor of All Maladies. This week, we'll post their comments, including how they hope it will influence the public dialogue on cancer, research and treatment.

Pat Brown, M.D.Pediatric oncologist, Pat Brown, M.D. shares his thoughts:

"I hope it (the documentary) will inspire an unprecedented outpouring of support for cancer patients, caregivers and researchers. I believe it will empower people to talk more openly about cancer, and to question whether solving the problem of cancer should be higher on our list of priorities as a society."

Tune into PBS stations nationwide, March 30, 31 and April 1 to watch the three-part, six-hour documentary series that tells the story of cancer based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. The documentary, billed by its producers as one of the most comprehensive of its kind yet made, features several patient stories and interviews conducted with clinicians and scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

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There is good news today for lung cancer patients. The FDA has announced that it has approved expansion of the immunotherapy drug nivolumab (Opdivo) for certain lung cancer patients.

Julie Brahmer, M.D., oncologist at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and director of its Thoracic Oncology Program, is one of the leaders of the initial, first-in-human trial of nivolumab and ongoing clinical trials that the FDA reviewed in its decision today to approve nivolumab for advanced squamous cell lung cancer. She says, "This is an exciting development for lung cancer patients today. We're entering a new era of treatment, notably, the first time immunotherapy has shown improved survival outcomes compared to chemotherapy and the first time any type of immunotherapy for lung cancer has been approved. We hope it's the first step to more immune-targeted treatments for lung cancer patients."

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PPRadiation copyThe latest issue of the Kimmel Cancer Center’s magazine Promise & Progress marks the 10th anniversary of the Department of Radiation Oncology and Molecular Radiation Sciences.  Knifeless radiosurgery, proton beams, radiation sensitizing drugs, immune-stimulating therapies, informatics systems, efficiencies models, and inventions that move research forward and make treatments safer are a sampling of the exciting new cancer science and medicine detailed in this issue.

The issue also includes information on the latest research making headlines, new clinicians and scientists, honors and awards, and the generous donations that are helping us fight cancer.

Find Promise & Progress on the Kimmel Cancer Website and also search for it in “Newsstand” on the iPad.  Print copies can be requested by email at mehlva@jhmi.edu.

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