Cancer research has gotten a boost since the founding of Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) in 2008: More than $262 million in funds have been pledged and more than $161 million has been awarded in "Dream Team" and "Innovative Research" grants.
As described on the SU2C website, "Dream Team grants are awarded to multi-institutional groups of scientists who work collaboratively, rather than competitively, to develop new treatments quickly in order to save lives now." I'm not sure I understand how that is different from the multi-center studies that have been a mainstay of research for decades, but that is beside the point. SU2C makes effective use of celebrity spokespeople, such as movie stars and famous athletes, and produces brilliant video advertisements to raise funds.
The goal could not be more worthy and it seems to be working and yet there is something that bothers me about using the same advertising techniques employed to sell laundry detergent to attract donations for cancer research.
I have a similar feeling whenever I see or hear advertisements for cancer centers and hospitals boasting how they have the best doctors and the latest advances in medical technology the way competing automobile companies hype the new gizmos in their cars. Come to us, they imply, and we'll treat your cancer better than the other guys.
Meanwhile there are other worthwhile ways of standing up to cancer that fall under the radar because they are not the stuff of glitzy public relations campaigns, clever logos, and celebrity spokespeople. When you and the oncologists and others at your institution combine to provide compassionate, quality care to a patient, you are that patient's dream team. I'm sure there is satisfaction in the recognition you receive from patients and their families. But it seems that all too often your work is taken for granted by administrators whose main concern is the bottom line.
So I find it gratifying that since 2011 the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has included a Humanitarian of the Year Award among the list of honors bestowed at its annual meeting. The recipient demonstrates leadership in voluntary, and often non-compensated, undertakings. The 2013 recipient was medical and radiation oncologist Bella Kaufman, MD, head of the Breast Cancer Unit at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, Israel (and no relation to this writer who shares her last name). She is the first international ASCO member to receive the award.
As reported in the June 1 edition of the ASCO News, Kaufman's research at Sheba focuses on BRCA1/2 mutation-related cancers and she is involved in clinical trials of new drugs to treat breast cancer. Sheba collaborates with other centers in Israel to establish a national policy for the diagnosis and care of women who are carriers of BRCA1/2 mutations. Kaufman's goal is to ensure quality care for all patients in the country.
Kaufman serves on several governmental committees as consultant and advisor to her country's Ministry of Health and Parliament on oncology-related health policies. In that role she explains the benefits of new treatments and technologies and advocates for their inclusion and reimbursement in the Israeli health care system. Once approved, the treatment becomes available to all patients in the country. "One of the activities that I value most,” she told the ASCO News, "is my involvement in projects that help patients with all kinds of illnesses who belong to underprivileged or uninsured groups."
In presenting the award during the opening plenary session, Michael P. Link, MD, past president of ASCO, noted that Kaufman "goes beyond her daily patient care work to care for underserved populations in her region, including the African refugees in Israel and the occupants of Palestinian villages of the West Bank." He pointed out that she also serves as a board member for non-governmental organizations that promote the right to health equality and providing medical assistance at Physicians for Human Rights–Israel's clinics, "with special attention to underserved cancer patient populations."
In her acceptance speech, Kaufman called on her fellow oncologists to engage in volunteer work. "Most of us are busy beyond words, juggling family life, clinical work, research -- and yet I urge you to find the time to volunteer. Find the place and the people that need you. Give of your time and expertise. We all have so much to give... and I can assure you that as much as you give you will receive even more in return." When it comes to standing up to cancer, Bella Kaufman is a one-woman dream team.