Guest Blog: The Promise of Cures: ASH14 – Ben Wang, founder of Team Kim

It seemed so out of place; 20,000 hematologists were intermingled with the typical palette of hipsters, transients and nuclear families in the SOMA district of San Francisco.  They might have been mistaken for slightly nerdy vampires, the world’s experts in blood.  It seemed equally strange that I found myself in the midst of this scene, but the fact was that I had always wanted to come to American Society of Hematology’s 2014 meeting (ASH14), more so now that our Team Kim efforts at the Nike Women’s Half Marathon had ended.  Despite raising a quarter million dollars for research towards a cure for blood cancers, I was left feeling as if there were more to be done.

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When you find yourself impacted by leukemia, or any cancer for that matter, it is a very human instinct to grasp for a foothold, to stabilize the dizzying reality that your loved one is dying.  For me it was in 2012 when Kim’s diagnosis came back as cytogenetically normal acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with Trisomy 8 and an NPM1 mutation.  Not only did I know that the prognosis wasn’t good, I didn’t know what Kim was dying from.  We contacted physician friends, studied internet research, examined clinical trials and crammed for an imminent final.  Living and breathing AML day in and day out, I quickly learned what epigenetic modifiers were, that diphtheria could be used as an anti-tumor agent and a dozen acronyms for various combinational chemotherapy protocols.  ASH2014_5After two years of cramming, well, the final came and we didn’t pass.  After the fact I wanted to know what answers we got wrong and how we could’ve answered them correctly.  Kim, always the perfectionist since our days together in college, would’ve wanted it that way, with extra credit.

So this is how I ended up at the teacher’s office – ASH14.  The lead up to the conference was bubbly.  An effervescent feeling percolated the conference, with new insights borne out of low cost DNA sequencing and progress with outside-the-box treatments.  The optimism came from Dr. Lewis Silverman who talked about improving the long-term lives of children cured of ALL, and from Dr. Julia Maxson and her collaborator Dr. Brian Druker about next generation AML drugs and targets.  The crown jewel of the conference was Dr. Carl June and his colleagues’ presentations on CAR T-cell work, where patients own immune systems are engineered to beat leukemia, which is showing excellent response and hope for FDA approval.  I noted that in all of this cutting-edge work, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) was a research sponsor in nearly every case.

A personally important update came from Dr. Eytan Stein of Memorial Sloan Kettering, who shared data about compounds called IDH inhibitors.  The recent results of these medicines for AML patients with IDH mutation were very good, with half of the patients showing good clinical response, all from taking a pill with no toxic chemotherapy!  While promising for patients, this data unfortunately came from the clinical trial was too late for Kim.  Hearing the results, I tried to focus on how happy she would’ve been in finding the right path for herself, having dug through dozens of candidate clinical trials.  She would have been happy to see such good progress against AML.

ASH2014_1I also ran into a hematologist who treated Kim when we were first admitted.  She was presenting promising pre-clinical results of a new inhibitor against real patients’ AML cells.  I recognized her and walked up to her and could note confusion in her face.  When you are a cancer patient, or part of a patient’s family, you cannot be certain that the hospital staff’s compassion was heartfelt or that the bedside manner was feigned.  Her confusion turned to recognition and surprise as she blurted out “Ben!” and gave me a warm embrace.  Indeed why would you ever expect to see someone you only see in the private rooms of the neutropenic hematology floor in the conference hallways of blood dork-dom?  It seems that we do build human bonds through the cold façade of the clinic.  We chatted about her poster, which incidentally included promising data using Kim’s cells.  And yes, this work was funded by the LLS too.

Did I accomplish what I had set out to see and feel?  I left ASH feeling absolutely certain that we are on the verge of beating blood cancers and that research is making a difference.  The funds raised through LLS and the hard work of Team In Training (TNT) and TNTers were making an impact on next generation therapies with lower side effects and better results.  You could see it in the excitement behind the pressed shirts, neat ties and PowerPoint presentations once a year at ASH.  It was bittersweet though.  This optimism can’t change anything for Kim.  But we all know, are or have a Kim.  That’s worth running for, raising money for and fighting for in our own ways.

Ben Wang is a Team In Training alumni and founder of Team Kim, a nationwide group of TNT participants who raised over $250,000 while training for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in 2014. Follow Team Kim’s story at www.goteamkim.com and learn more about Kim and www.kimbwang.com.

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2015 Northern California Blood Cancer Conference

We were honored to host 740 guests on January 24th Photos by Colson Griffith Photography - www.colsongriffith.comat the 2015 Northern California Blood Cancer Conference, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) annual free blood cancer conference!

The event took place at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, where guests started the day with breakfast and opening remarks from Lauren Wilkerson Hall, Senior Manager of Patient Access & Education, followed by a presentation on LLS’s mission from Aaron Czyzewski, Regional Mission Director, and an important talk on how attendees can get involved and advocate for blood cancer patients from Sharon Ladin, Executive Director of Advocacy.

Photos by Colson Griffith Photography - www.colsongriffith.comWe then welcomed our keynote speaker, Ethan Zohn, two-time Hodgkin lymphoma survivor, former American professional soccer player and winner of Survivor: Africa. Ethan gave his acclaimed speech “The Ultimate Survivor” which was a touching story of his experiences and successes from winning Survivor: Africa and all of the hurdles and challenges he had to overcome to become a two-time blood cancer survivor. He received a standing ovation and even had time to answer questions from attendees in the audience.

After the keynote speech, guests headed to breakout sessions hosted by leading physicians who presented new and exciting information on their field of expertise.  The breakout sessions included:

Acute Myeloid Leukemia: Bruno Medeiros, M.D.
Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology, Stanford University School of Medicine

Chronic Lymphoid Leukemia: Steven Coutre, M.D.
Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology, Stanford University School of Medicine

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia: Neil Shah, M.D., Ph.D.
Edward S. Ageno Distinguished Professor in Hematology/Oncology; Leader, Hematopoietic Malignancies Program, Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, UCSF

Multiple Myeloma: Thomas Martin, M.D.
Clinical Professor of Medicine and Associate Director of the Myeloma Institute, Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, UCSF

Myelodyplastic Syndromes: Brian Jones, M.D., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (High Grade/Aggressive): Ranjana Advani, M.D. 
Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology, Stanford University School of Medicine

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (Low Grade/Indolent): C. Babis Andreadis, M.D., MSCE 
Associate Professor, Hematology and BMT Program, Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, UCSF

Pediatric Blood Cancers: Mignon Loh, M.D.
Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital

Photos by Colson Griffith Photography - www.colsongriffith.comThank you to all of our guests and incredible speakers and presenters for making the Northern California Blood Cancer Conference a big success!  A big thank you to our sponsors, Boehringer Ingelheim, Genentech, Gilead, Pfizer, Pharmacyclics, Onyx, Seattle Genetics, Takeda and Teva Pharmaceuticals, and to our partners, including the Association of Northern California Oncologists, Stanford Cancer Center, University of California San Francisco Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, Cancer CAREpoint, and Kids & Art.

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Reckless Racers

If you haven’t heard of the app Reckless Racers, you’ll want to download it, especially since 100% of the proceeds from the first 1,000 downloads will be donated to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Team In Training (TNT)! This app was developed by teenager Jack Connolly to support his father’s fight against cancer. Read about Jack’s story from his own words:

When I was 8 years-old, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, which he’s been battling for 9 years now. After many years of chemotherapy and operations he’s home on disability and able to keep going with the help of intravenous nutrition. My best friend has also fought cancer, 3 times in his life, once in kindergarten and then again in 5th and 11th grade. He’s faced treatments, lost his hair and missed school.

I’ve been saddened by their suffering, but moved by their strength and spirit. I’ve watched my community rally around my dad and my best friend, and was inspired by the Nike Women’s Half Marathon, which benefits LLS every year.

Growing up with a sick parent makes you self-reliant and makes you realize you need to be able to take care of yourself as soon as you’re able. My mom encouraged me to take a software class where I discovered I love writing code and started spending my summers and weekends teaching myself JAVA, C+, IOS and more. Finally, last November, I created an iPhone game called Reckless Racers, a multi-player car race game launched after 9 months and hundreds of hours of development.

Now I want to give back to the community that inspired me. 100% of the proceeds from the first 1,000 downloads of Reckless Racers will be donated to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training campaign.

My goal is for people to enjoy the game, while raising money for cancer research. Here’s a video that shows what Reckless Racers is like. I hope you’ll take a look and support my cause.

Sincerely, Jack Connolly

Learn more about Reckless Racers or download it today at http://bit.ly/RecklessRacers or https://www.facebook.com/RecklessRacers!

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Thinking of Joining Team In Training? Get Advice From an Expert!

Lois MarkovichThis past year Lois Markovich, leukemia survivor, long-time Team In Training (TNT) participant and board member of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) Northern California Chapter, decided to officially “retire” from TNT. Her last event was the Nike Women’s Half Marathon where she was a member of Team On Fire, which raised over $264,000. Since first getting involved with TNT in 1999, Lois has participated in 25 seasons and more than 25 events, so we asked the seasoned professional for advice for current and future TNTers:

“Take advantage of the team. Take advantage of the opportunity to meet new people, see new places, experience a new sport or get better at a sport you already know.”

“Don’t minimize the experience but live it to the max because it’s a fabulous way to be a part of something bigger than you and yet know it’s a big part of yourself as well.”

Her most cherished part of Team In Training?

“The people, always the people.  I’ve had so many great memories, wonderful teams, coaches, mentors, captains and participants.  They all do something special, sometimes with no initial connection to the cause, and raise so much money every single year.”

Lois Markovich - Isabelle and Shelby in MauiLois’s favorite event was her first Nike Women’s Marathon, where she had the opportunity to meet her team’s Honored Hero, a young girl named Isabelle who was battling leukemia. A few years ago, Lois had the opportunity to see Isabelle who’s now a healthy teenager in high school. As a young girl, Isabelle was featured on a TNT brochure (pictured here with Isabelle on the right) alongside another honoree Shelby, who’s now a survivor and spoke at Lois’s kickoff for this year’s Nike Women’s Half Marathon. After seeing Isabelle and Shelby thriving as young adults, Lois truly felt that her Team In Training career was complete.

For those of you who know Lois, you’ll still see her at LLS and TNT events as a supporter and occasional participant. Thank you Lois for all of your years of support and your continued commitment to creating a world without blood cancers!

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Announcement from LLS!

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We are very excited to announce that The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) Greater Bay Area and Sacramento Chapters have merged to become The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Northern California Chapter!

As the Northern California Chapter, we have offices in San Jose, San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Sacramento, and satellite offices throughout the area. We are so pleased to be one big chapter serving patients and their families from Monterey County to Modoc County.

Connect with us on social media or contact one of our Northern California Chapter offices to learn how you can join the fight against blood cancers today!

sidebar_icon_facebookThe Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Northern California Chapter
Team In Training Northern California Chapter
 
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@LLSNorCal
@TNTNorCal
 
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@llsnorcal
 
San Jose
675 N. First Street, Suite 1100
San Jose, CA 95112
(408) 490-2666
 
San Francisco
221 Main Street, Suite 1650
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 625-1100
 
Santa Rosa
2455 Bennett Valley Road, Suite B204
Santa Rosa, CA 95405
(707) 544-4350
 
Sacramento
7750 College Town Drive, Suite 210
Sacramento, CA 95826
(916) 929-4720
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2014 Light The Night Walks!

This was an amazing year for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Light The Night Walks! In Northern California, a total of seven walks hosted over 12,000 walkers and 1,000 volunteers who all helped us raise $3.2 million to help create a world without blood cancers.

A special thanks to our 78 volunteer committee members! Without our committee members who helped recruit new walkers, engaged their circles and executed the logistics for the walks, we would never have been able to create a special and memorable evening for all who are touched by blood cancers. If you’re interested in joining your local committee, please contact Victoria Gallagher at Victoria.Gallagher@lls.org.

Thank you to all of our walkers, volunteers, committee members and supporters for helping us light the night!

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San Francisco Light The Night Walk, AT&T Park – September 23, 2014
View all pictures from the walk here

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Napa Valley Light The Night Walk, Veterans Memorial Park – September 27, 2014
View all pictures from the walk here

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North Bay Light The Night Walk, Old Courthouse Square – October 11, 2014
View all pictures from the walk here

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San Jose Light The Night Walk, Discovery Meadow – October 18, 2014
View all pictures from the walk here

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East Bay Light The Night Walk, Civic Park – October 25, 2014
View all pictures from the walk here

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Peninsula Light The Night Walk, City Hall Plaza – November 1, 2014
View all pictures from the walk here

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Sacramento Light The Night Walk, Raley Field – November 1, 2014
View all pictures from the walk here
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Chris-Mix Silent Auction to Benefit LLS!

The 9th Annual Chris-Mix, presented by Mix 104.9 and North Bay Kitchen & Bath Design Center, will be hosting a silent auction to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS)! This festive show starring American Authors with Uncle Kracker and Jacquie Lee from The Voice, will be taking place on Sunday, November 30th at 7 pm at the Wells Fargo Center For The Arts.

Tickets are now on sale at the box office, which you can visit by clicking here, or at www.mix1049.com. Don’t miss this concert and silent auction benefitting blood cancer research!

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The 2014 Nike Women’s Half Marathon San Francisco!

NWM_RunnersIt was a very exciting weekend for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Team In Training (TNT) Northern California Chapter! Sunday was the 11th annual Nike Women’s Half Marathon San Francisco, a race to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and one of the biggest endurance events in the country that takes place in our very own hometown.

This year, the Northern California Chapter had over 620 participants who completed the half marathon and raised over $1.8 million! Overall, TNT had over 1,500 participants who raised more than $5 million to benefit LLS and over the past 11 years, the Nike Women’s Run Series has raised over $153 million for LLS.

It was an unforgettable weekend, starting last week with the Nike Expo, featuring a Someday Is Today photo booth and a NWM_Ben & ChristineTNT Lounge in Macy’s Union Square. Saturday’s Inspiration Dinner was particularly exciting for our chapter since two incredible participants from Bay Area teams were given top fundraising awards, Ben Wang of Team Kim and Christine Attia of Team On Fire, whose teams both individually raised over $250,000.

Sunday’s event debuted a new course to the over 45,000 participants who ran or walked 13.1 miles through the streets of San Francisco. The purple energy through the city was electric, especially for all of the participants who call Northern California home. The TNT Tunnel of Love, where all the TNT coaches and staff line the finish line to cheer on the last TNT participant to cross, celebrated one of our very own honorees, Jim of the NWM_Tunnel of Love_Jim FenolioSF/Marin Walk Team! Team In Training pictures from the weekend are now available here.

Congratulations to all of the Nike Women’s Half Marathon San Francisco finishers and a special GO TEAM to all of our participants from Team In Training’s Northern California Chapter! Thank you to everyone for supporting The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and helping us find a cure for blood cancers.

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Guest Blog: My & Team Kim’s Journey – Ben Wang, Team In Training participant & founder of Team Kim

That was the worst part about having cancer, sometimes: The physical evidence of disease separates you from other people.

John Green, The Fault in Our StarsIMG_7639

I know my wife, Kim, felt that way. Maybe it was the filter mask that gave it away, a particular hair do or the PICC line. Kim passed away nearly six months ago, from an aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). She had been battling it the prior two years earning brief remissions through chemo. She survived the stem cell transplant from her superhero sister Jess, a perfect match. At the end, her will to live never succumbed, knowing that I and our twin three-year-old daughters wanted and needed her, but the chemo was too strong and the leukemia, too stubborn. After being in love for the past fifteen years, I feel flattened missing her every single moment of every day.

In the ensuing weeks condolences, support and hugs came flooding in. But none of it hit the pause button on my feeling of loss. As the one left behind, I felt separated from all others without any physical evidence of the disease, just the sole inward facing loneliness and melancholy. Our friends Tom and Deanne, both Team In Training (TNT) veterans, suggested that we put a team together to honor, remember and celebrate Kim. As a runner, I had often seen the TNT purple jersey at races but was unfamiliar with the mission and the program. Deanne discovered that should we fundraise over $100,000 as a team, we would be able to name a research grant in Kim’s honor. Furthermore the research grant would go towards The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Beat AML initiative, with the aim of curing AML with advanced targeted therapies.

It made sense on many levels. Kim was a runner, was invested in her treatment and became knowledgeable about new clinical trials. Kim was also a uniter. The idea that groups could come together to do something positive would be right up her alley. It sounded almost perfect, though the idea of talking, or blubbering, about Kim and her story to strangers felt uncomfortably raw. Still it was the first time I could see the tiniest bit of daylight breaking through the gloom, the seed of which would become Team Kim.

At the kick off meeting for the TNT Peninsula team, I recounted Kim’s story and shared the nascent journey of Team Kim. Preventing my voice from cracking was challenging but I quickly saw in the gathered group of other participants, volunteer coaches and team manager, understanding, compassion, drive and community. People whom I had never met were moved and I in turn began to feel some peace that Kim was continuing to inspire people, the way she did for me every day. I haven’t stopped missing Kim, but with each Mission Moment, track practice and fundraising event, I feel less separated from others. I found some measure of solace in the sprints and the pauses, the shared words and understood silences.

IMG_4968Team Kim has now swelled to 71 runners and walkers nationwide and together we have raised over $170,000 to support AML research. We will run the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco this October. I am proud of our accomplishments as a team and very hopeful that our efforts have helped raise awareness, will help find a cure and bring people together when loss has separated them. Undergoing this journey has united me back with old friends, new friends and myself.

Team In Training is about possibility, relentlessly realizing new cures for hematological malignancies and driving people to accomplish endurance events they’d never imagined they could do. In the aftermath of losing Kim, I could not imagine a life unscarred. In the end, tragedy and loss unfold before all of us. As Edward Hirsch writes in Gabriel:

I did not know the work of mourning
Is like carrying a bag of cement
Up a mountain at night
Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders
That’s why it takes courage
To get out of bed in the morning
And climb into the day.

 

As one of too many left behind, carrying those bags, it can feel unbearable. Climbing with Team Kim and TNT is having a family help lighten the burden each step along the way as we begin our ascent to a new normal.

Ben Wang is a Team In Training participant and founder of Team Kim, a nationwide group of TNT participants dedicated to raising money for AML research. Follow Team Kim’s story at www.goteamkim.com and learn more about Kim at www.kimbwang.com.

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Five Things You Didn’t Know About Blood Cancer

Blood cancer isn’t 10609676_10152661727613724_6359606049812725582_nsomething most people want to talk about. In fact, we’d probably be happy to go our entire lives without ever giving it a second thought.

Unfortunately, with more than 1.1 million Americans living with (or in remission from) these diseases, most of us know someone who thinks about it every day.

The statistics are improving and promising research developments are announced every day, but we still have a long way to go. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) focuses on raising awareness every day but for September – Blood Cancer Awareness Month – we’ve set an even greater challenge – raising $300,000 in 30 days.

Think about these facts:

  1. Every three minutes, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed and there are few (if any) means of preventing or screening early.
  2. In 1964, a child’s chance of surviving acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common form of childhood leukemia, was 3%. Today about 90% of children survive.
  3. Since the early 1960s, the survival rates for many blood cancer patients have doubled, tripled or even quadrupled thanks to research and access to better treatments.
  4. Nearly 40 percent of new cancer therapies approved by the FDA between 2000 and 2013 were first approved for blood cancer patients.
  5. Multi-drug chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation was first successfully developed for blood cancer patients.

We’ve come a long way!

Last year alone, LLS invested nearly $80 million in cutting-edge research – bringing the total to more than $1 billion spent to advance cancer therapies and save lives. Yet, despite this progress, more than one third of blood cancer patients still do not survive five years after their diagnosis.

Currently, LLS-funded research teams at multiple institutions are testing different approaches to activate the immune system to kill cancer cells. They helped advance an antibody therapy that helps boost the immune system to attack cancer cells in patients with lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and are working to advance new FDA-approved targeted therapies to treat patients with CLL and other B-cell cancers.

To keep up this progress and achieve our goal of a world without blood cancers, we need to invest in more research to find cures. We need your help.

Please help us meet our goal. Donate today.

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