December, 2017

Friends and Family

By Michael J. Katin, MD

Thanks to an article in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in November I learned for the first time of the existence of an organization connected with the National Cancer Institute known as Friends of Cancer Research. This was created in 1996 with the mission to drive "collaboration among partners from every healthcare sector to power advances in science, policy and regulation that speed life-saving treatments to patients." The founder and Chairperson is Ellen V. Sigal, Ph.D., who has been a dynamo in promoting support organizations, ever since her younger sister died at age 40 from cancer. What is even more remarkable about her accomplishments is that Dr. Sigal's Ph.D. is in history and Russian literature (well, Chekhov was a physician, true?) and prior to her becoming an advocate she was president of Sigal Development, working on multiple construction projects in the Middle Atlantic area, including renovation of the Bond Building, a Beaux-Arts office building dating back to 1901, in Washington, DC. Interestingly, guess where the Fraud Section of the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice is headquartered? Oh, and guess from whom the Department of Justice is leasing the Bond Building? Interesting how things work out.

Another person who has been very active in supporting anti-cancer efforts is Sherry Lansing, also not a physician or scientist, whose mother died of ovarian cancer in 1984. Sherry Lansing is distinguished as the first female head of a major Hollywood motion picture studio, taking over 20th Century Fox when she was only 35 and subsequently becoming chairperson of Paramount Pictures, responsible for releases such as Forrest Gump and Titanic. She is on the board of directors of Friends of Cancer Research.

While no one can have too many friends, the connections begin to get complicated. For example, in 2005 the Sherry Lansing Foundation was established, with the mission to fund and raise "awareness for cancer research, health, public education, and encore career opportunities." Previously, she co-founded (with Armand Hammer ) STOP CANCER, "committed to funding the most promising and innovative scientists in their early research of all forms of cancer prevention, treatment, cures, and subsequent clinical applications." She is also one of nine co-founders in 2008 of Stand Up To Cancer, with a mission to "raise funds to accelerate the pace of groundbreaking translational research that can get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives now." This is a program under the Entertainment Industry Foundation, which was started in 1942 to raise money for World War II relief efforts. Sherry Lansing is also listed as being on the boards of the American Association for Cancer Research Foundation, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Entertainment Industry Foundation, the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation (for support of medical research in general), and the W. M. Keck Foundation (supporting pioneering discoveries in science, engineering, and medicine). She has many other philanthropic and patient advocate positions almost too numerous to list.

Getting back to Dr. Sigel, she is also on the board of the American Association for Cancer Research Foundation and chair of the "public-private partnerships" committee of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, among many, many other positions. They are challenged in their extent of involvement by Carolyn Aldige', President and Founder of the Prevent Cancer Foundation, who founded the organization in 1984, one year after her father, a World War II hero, died of head and neck cancer, to save "lives across all populations through cancer prevention and early detection." She is distinguished by having actually worked in a research laboratory for eight years after getting her bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry (art history minor). Of course she is on the board of the Friends of Cancer Research, but also is a board member and former president of the National Coalition for Cancer Research (Dr. Sigal is a board member as well), and board member on the Intercultural Cancer Council, the Council of Scientific Advisors of the American Association of Cancer Research, and the Patient Advocacy Advisory Board of Stand Up to Cancer, and the advisory board of the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program, as well as in her spare time being vice-chair of the Global Lung Cancer Coalition and an executive committee member of the International Digestive Cancer Alliance -- oh, and also an advisor or board member for six NCCN cancer center members, and a member since its inception of C-Change, previously known as the National Dialogue on Cancer, whose goal is to "Eliminate Cancer at the Earliest Possible Time."

The reader will be happy to know I will not attempt to continue to go over the myriad of organizations in which these amazing humanitarians participate. Several conclusions seem to rise from all this. First, it seems all the accomplishments nearly all by women (nothing surprising there) whose commitment arose from the death of a family member. Second, it makes one seem inadequate to participate in one or two hospital tumor boards or other committees, let alone medical societies, compared to these individuals. Third, the amount of money spent on transportation, meals, and hotels getting board members together for literally dozens of advisory or charitable groups must be enough to rival any bureaucratic economic stimulus program, for which we should be grateful. Finally, there may need eventually to be a reckoning about how much redundancy is present by having multiple organizations with the same goals. Granted, it can be understood why the entertainment industry wanted its own program (because they know how to get attention better than anyone else ) and why individuals want to put their individual stamps on projects such as Michael Milken and the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Nancy G. Brinker, sister of Susan B. Komen, wanting to specifically get even with breast cancer. Regardless, at some point the multiplicity of organizations has to get diminishing returns. It might be cynical to say that if this were the correct approach then cancer should have been cured already. On top of having multiple national and international government-based organizations and the private sector advisory and support groups for them (most notably the National Cancer Advisory Board, one of whose Blue-Ribbon Panel members is, of course, Dr. Sigal), we now even have the Moonshot Program, the Biden Cancer Initiative, which has generated another group of directors (I had not realized that Jimmy "Taboo" Gomez of the Black-Eyed Peas had been treated for testicular cancer) and advisors. If nothing else, the variety of organizational names must lead to the occasional embarrassing occurrence of someone's showing up to the wrong meeting (Was this the American Association of Cancer Research or the Friends of Cancer Research? That one's next week? Sorry. Since I've already been sitting in for an hour may I just stay?).

Maybe the best solution would be to amalgamate all the different groups into one government and one private. This would allow everyone's efforts to be channeled into an organized plan so that not even one 5K run or tote bag offer will be wasted. One could be called the National Cancer Institute and the other the American Cancer Society. Pretty wild idea.

Emanuel Countdown: Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel's biographies list his birth year as 1957 but, interestingly, do not list a birth date. He has expressed that he does not wish to live past his 75th birthday. Giving him every benefit of the doubt, he will have his 75th birthday no later than December 31, 2032. Including December 1, 2017, this leaves 5,510 days to his goal.