Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Something Wonderful: HOPE

Something wonderful happened on Monday night:  we met "the new doctor in town," a brilliant pediatric cancer researcher who has come to Seattle to change the way cancer is treated.

There is a back-story to this, which, for us, started a little over three years ago. For the doctor, it started even farther in the past. I'll explain...

A young man was awarded a high-school internship at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. While he was there, he worked on the study of the immune system. This young man eventually became a doctor, and went to work at the City of Hope in Southern California.

Three years ago in Poulsbo, shortly after Katie's passing, we invited our neighbors to have dessert with us. The husband is an immunologist, who was instrumental in the development of the drug Enbrel. His wife is a two-time cancer survivor, and they are very kind and civic-minded people. I wanted to ask him some questions about cancer treatment, specifically:
*Why are the treatments available today so toxic?
*Why are we killing the body in order to cure it, and causing horrific side-effects in the process? - Doesn't that seem counter-intuitive?
*Why don't we empower the body from the inside to fight this disease, the way we use antibiotics for other illnesses?
*Where is the research on strengthening the immune system?
So I did ask these questions, and the answer was given gently and (as I recall) regretfully:  we haven't harnessed this power because we don't fully understand how the immune system works, yet.

That was three years ago.

Since we founded the Katie Gerstenberger Endowment for Cancer Research at Seattle Children's Hospital, we have had it as our aim to help finance research into more effective, less toxic cures for solid tumors like the one that took Katie's life.

On Monday night, we met the doctor who is bringing that research to Seattle Children's Hospital - the same man who studied at The Hutch as a high school student: Dr. Mike Jensen. He had just arrived, less than a week ago.

To be honest, when we received the invitation to the reception, we hesitated. Katie's Endowment is relatively small, when compared with some of the guilds and foundations that we know. We wondered if there had been a mistake - we aren't wealthy, and we aren't influential, and I sensed that this reception was designed for that crowd. But my gut and my heart agreed that we should go to meet the doctor, and hear the latest information, because I do most of my volunteer work in this field. It's my passion. So I persuaded Gregg to go, and my mom joined us.

The reception was held in a beautiful home in Seattle, overlooking Puget Sound, and graciously hosted. We met people who - like us - have a passionate interest in moving cancer research forward. We saw my friend Carin, whose son Ben was diagnosed with a life-threatening tumor (on the very day that Katie passed away), and who died from his cancer. Carin & her husband, Jeff Towne, created the Ben Towne Foundation, and they have helped to bring Dr. Jensen to Seattle. Standing next to Carin, and hearing Jeff speak about Ben's life and death, I wept.

Then Dr. Jensen spoke, and here is what he said:  he has found a way to teach T-cells from the human immune system to kill cancer cells, without the side effects that come from chemotherapy or radiation. This treatment has the potential to kill cancer cells and tumors in children and adults, without harming the healthy cells in the body.

Listening to him describe his work, I felt as if our prayers have been heard. As I watched the video of T-cells destroying cancer cells, saw the "before and after" scans of a brain that had solid tumor disappear from it due to this therapy, and heard about the lab results, I thought, "It's a miracle." It's just what I was asking for, three years ago, and it is now going to be advanced and supported here in Seattle. 

So, although our prayers for Katie's life and deliverance from cancer were not answered in the way that we had hoped they would be, I feel as if every one of those prayers has been heard, and is in process of being answered for other families. I am going to do whatever I can to support this brilliant and hopeful doctor's work. I hope that you will join me, and spread the word in your community that this is happening in Seattle, so that we can rally as much support as possible. The more funding Dr. Jensen's laboratory has, the sooner this therapy will be available to everyone.
The joy and elation that I felt after this reception are greater than nearly anything I've experienced since before October 10, 2006 - the awful day when Katie's tumor was first discovered. I have real hope that cancer may have met its match in Dr. Jensen's research.


Elizabeth said...

Wow. This gives me chills and makes me cry. I so hope and pray that cancer research will move forward as you've described -- YOU are a miracle as well, Karen.

Your work appears to be unfolding, no?

deb said...

this is just so very incredible.
A young friend of mine who is battling brain cancer used her own funds to undergo some immune boosting treatments that held off the tumour growth for awhile. Along with dietary changes etc
Unfortunately the tumour has since returned and she had to have radiation.
Hope . Always Hope.

You make me want to be a better person every time I read your posts. I 'm sure I've told you that before, but it's worth repeating.

Smileygirl said...

Reading this makes you feel like the impossible will finally be achieved. This is incredible. Like Elizabeth I have chills. Never thought we would see this progress in our lifetime. HOPE = THE REALITY TO COME! XOXOXOXOXO!

Mary Potts said...

I am weeping as I read this Karen. It truly IS a miracle - to kill cancer cells DEAD, without harming the healthy cells, keeping the beautiful body intact.

I just posted something about radiation and its effects on Erin... those for which we were grateful, and then the negative.

Thank God for this man and his vision and dedication. May the children who fight today, stay on this earth as the victors!

Thank you for your generous support with the Endowment in Katie's name.

Kay said...

It would be so wonderful to see this disease knocked out without making the patient soo sick in the process. Praying this work continues and bears even more fruit! : )

Busy Bee Suz said...

What wonderful news Karen. Finally.
No words can complete with the joy in your heart...this is just incredible.

Life with Kaishon said...

This made me cry and cry. But even more than that, it made me hope.

Praying for a miracle.

Anonymous said...


What a miracle! I don't know what parent doesn't feel a little sick inside giving their child chemotherapy - Daniel had a chemotherapy pill we gave him at home along with the infusions at the hospital...because it is basically poison. I remember watching the nurses dress up in basically hazmat suits to administer the chemo...and it was just so strange to me to think that if a drop of it hit skin, it would burn it, yet it is dripping into my child's body. So, this is welcome news indeed! How exciting!
xo L.

Paul said...

Hope...that has been such a rare concept in the terrible world of cancer. But now, HERE IT IS! Hope has arrived. To hear some good news for a change is incredible. I'm still shocked by what I just read. I'm so happy for you Karen that your spirits could get a much needed boost because you care so much and so completely down to the very center of your being about this cause. I hope that this hope reproduces like rabbits and just starts flooding the cancer world. I also hope that this new hope gets the $$$ it needs to make sure that steady progress continues. Looks to me like the clouds are starting to clear up a bit on the horizon. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful news Karen! :)

Meg said...

this is awesome!! I'm so glad progress is being made. I've wondered all those same things.... my aunt died of ovarian cancer last february and the chemo made her so sick and miserable. my grandma now has some sort of throat cancer, and has to get both chemo AND radiation, and she just feels awful the majority of the time. it doesn't seem like the way to a cure and it sucks that this is the only option available right now! i think the work you do in katie's memory is making a difference for a lot people, i'm so glad you are being recognized for it!


Anonymous said...

I hope you got my email. It was an honor to stand beside you. Thankful for Katie's Endowment and the work you are doing.

Look forward to a glass of wine soon...

Lv, CT

Anonymous said...

What a thrill to read your journal entry! I, too, am filled with hope for what might be with this new research.

Karen B.

Amanda said...

How exciting...I have goosebumps! Thank you for sharing Karen! You and the Towne's have sacrificed tremendously - you have my continued prayers.

Amanda Foxall
aka Cinnamon said...

My day started with your blog..and smiles. Thank you!

Hope. The best 4 letter word I know.

You put it in the Universe and it boomeranged back to you.

Be proud of what you do Miss Karen! I am.


Karen said...

Incredible. How amazing that God would allow you to be witness to the (almost) full circle of that answered prayer. You and your huge heart and your little foundation are making a BIG impact on the world! Another beautiful miracle of grace in your life.

rebecca said...

i believe.
i do.

i share your absolute joy.

such a long arrive at this bright new future.

finally and forever for everyone.

i love you.

AJay Piniewski said...

you are 'wealthy and influential' in ways most will never be...

AJay Piniewski said...

you are 'wealthy and influential' in ways most will never be...

LeighSW said...

That is such wonderful news! I'm so glad you were there to hear it in person.

Lakeland Jo said...

I agree with Ajay for a start. You are an amazing lady.
Sitting here after two horrible days of chemo after effects this post gives me a lot of hope and confidence. It is great to see that progress is being made. I hope this works moves quickly and becomes available to many people across the world

ABW said...

What wonderful news and hope!

Jason, as himself said...

Ohhh, this gives me chills.

I'm afraid to hope though.

But there IS a cure out there, there must be, hopefully this is part of that!

Thanks for sharing this exciting news. You are one amazing woman.

I'm fighting cancer over on The Jason Show today in a somewhat, uh, less conventional way....

Daisy said...

Karen, that is amazing news! Thank you for sharing this. I am so happy and moved to hear of this man's work. I will most definitely pass the word along.


Tracey Axnick said...

This is beautiful, Karen! I am thankful for Dr. Jensen! It sounds like we are getting substantially closer to finally CONQUERING the cancer monster once and for all.

I'm sure the Dr. Jensen's speech at the reception was incredibly moving... amazing to hear of these wonderful advancements!

AnnDeO said...

This makes sense! What wonderful, hopeful news! said...

This is SO EXCITING!!!!!!! THank you for sharing this amazing message of HOPE; thanking you even more for your persistence in working toward this incredible goal.

shauna said...

It was so great to see you and Gregg. It was an amazing night, wasn't it? I linked your post to my blog... You are doing amazing thngs.