Gearing up for Mesothelioma Awareness Day

Paint the World in Mesothelioma AwarenessFor this year’s Mesothelioma Awareness Day on September 26, the Meso Foundation will focus its efforts on raising awareness of this aggressive cancer by leading a campaign titled “Painting the World in Mesothelioma Awareness.”

“We ask that everyone affected by this awful cancer, including mesothelioma patients and their families, those who have lost a loved one to this cancer, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, wear blue t-shirts, and in general to make sure they keep blue as the central color of their themes as they raise awareness in person and virtually,” said Maja Belamaric, the Meso Foundation’s director of communications.

“The idea is to portray visually with the color blue the concept of awareness as it widens its reach,” she added.

Mesothelioma Awareness Day, established by Meso Foundation volunteers in 2004, has been the driving force behind the movement to bring more attention and funding to this cancer.

In the last ten years, through various activities, the Meso Foundation and its volunteers have been able to obtain “National Mesothelioma Awareness Day” proclamations for September 26 by both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives; have raised over a million dollars for research, education support and advocacy; have received local government proclamations in their states and localities, and have received dozens of instances of media coverage for their stories, events, and activities.

For more information about Mesothelioma Awareness Day and to stay up to date on events as September 26 approaches, visit curemeso.org/awareness.

 

Situational Awareness is Key to Avoiding Asbestos Exposures

STOP LOOK THINKby Diane Blackburn-Zambetti, Director of Policy and Prevention Education

This article is the first of a three-part series regarding situational awareness and its application in preventing asbestos exposure:

  • Part one will address the definition of situational awareness (SA) and the areas in which SA can be applied
  • Part two will address SA in regards to encountering asbestos during DIY projects
  • Part three will address SA in regards to encountering asbestos on the jobsite

Many of you may have heard or used the term “situational awareness” without fully understanding what it means or knowing of the many areas in which this concept can be applied. At the end of this three-part series of articles, you will gain a better understanding of the term, as well as its many areas of use when it comes to preventing asbestos exposure.

Simply stated, situational awareness is the concept of knowing and being aware of what is around you. SA is an ongoing process. With this awareness and knowledge, you are less likely to be caught off guard and you will have the ability to make better decisions when needed. SA can have many applications in your everyday life. A few examples include: work, DIY projects, security, walking, and parenting. It is especially useful for recognizing the presence of asbestos before exposure.

There are five defined levels of awareness:

  1. You are in a state similar to daydreaming
  2. You are relaxed but still aware and reacting to your surroundings
  3. You are focused and aware of your surroundings and ready to react (i.e. walking on ice)
  4. You have a feeling of wide eyes and hair standing on end with your heart beating harder and faster, but you are still functioning
  5. You are no longer able to function or respond — you are “frozen”

You likely apply the practice of SA without realizing it. It is important that people are aware of their surroundings and the hazards that may be present, such as asbestos. Looking out for your own safety, as well as others nearby, is a key aspect of situational awareness.

SA can be consciously practiced and improved through the STOP-LOOK-THINK method:

STOP          Engage your thought process before you act, and evaluate the situation.

LOOK          Scan the entire space for possible hazards, both at home and at work.

THINK          Consider the consequences of venturing into unsafe conditions, and determine the proper safety equipment.

Situational awareness allows us the opportunity to make rational decisions and act before being caught off guard. In the next installment of this three-part series, we will address the practice of situational awareness in preventing asbestos exposure during DIY projects.

A Summary of Mesothelioma Studies from ASCO 2015

MicroscopeBy Hedy Lee Kindler, MD,  University of Chicago

The American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting was held from May 29 – June 2, 2015 in Chicago. About 30,000 attendees from across the world gathered to discuss the latest research advances in all types of cancer, making this the largest, most important oncology meeting of the year. This was a particularly exciting meeting for those of us interested in mesothelioma. I’ve summarized 3 of the most prominent studies below.

MAPS: A randomized trial of pemetrexed, cisplatin with or without bevacizumab. This oral abstract, presented by Dr. Gerard Zalcman on behalf of the French Cooperative Thoracic Intergroup (IFCT), was clearly the star of the show for those of us who care about mesothelioma. This study is important because it is the first randomized trial in over a decade to show that a new drug improves survival in mesothelioma patients. Bevacizumab is a monoclonal antibody that targets vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which is highly expressed on mesothelioma. Think of it as a drug that targets the blood vessels that feed tumors (angiogenesis). Bevacizumab (the trade name is Avastin) is already FDA approved in multiple cancers, including colon cancer and lung cancer. In the MAPS trial, all 448 patients received standard chemotherapy with pemetrexed plus cisplatin, and half of the patients were randomized to also receive bevacizumab with each dose of chemotherapy. After completing 6 cycles of chemotherapy, patients on the bevacizumab arm also received bevacizumab by itself, every 3 weeks until their cancer started to grow. The time for cancer growth to occur (progression-free survival) was about 2 months longer in the bevacizumab arm (9.59 vs. 7.48 months). Patients treated with bevacizumab also lived almost 3 months longer (18.82 vs. 16.07 months). The addition of bevacizumab did not make patients feel worse (it did not worsen quality of life), although it did cause increased side effects such as bleeding, high blood pressure, and blood clots. Because there was an improvement in survival with the experimental treatment, it is possible that this trial could lead to FDA approval of bevacizumab for mesothelioma—stay tuned!

NGR015: Randomized trial of investigator’s choice of chemotherapy with or without NGR-hTNF. Oral presentations at ASCO are only for the large randomized trials. At most ASCO meetings there are no mesothelioma presentations; this year, there were two! The second oral presentation was by Dr. Rabab Gaafar from Cairo, Egypt on behalf of an international group of investigators. All 400 patients on this trial previously received pemetrexed. They were randomized to receive either NGR-hTNF (another drug that targets angiogenesis) or placebo (sugar water).  In addition, patients could receive chemotherapy either with gemcitabine, vinorelbine, or doxorubicin, or no chemotherapy at all. Unfortunately, the addition of NGR-hTNF to chemotherapy did not affect how long the cancer was controlled, or how long the patients lived. Data is being analyzed to see if certain characteristics might predict which patients might benefit from this drug.

Mesothelin targeted immunotherapy CRS-207, plus pemetrexed/cisplatin chemotherapy. Dr. Raffit Hassan from the National Cancer Institute updated the results of this ongoing trial in a poster presentation. Mesothelin is highly expressed on the surface of mesothelioma. CRS-207 is a vaccine that increases the immune response against mesothelin, and may enhance the activity of chemotherapy. In this study, 2 doses of CRS-207 were given before pemetrexed and cisplatin, as well as after completion of 6 cycles of chemotherapy. Encouraging activity was observed: 60% of patients had tumor shrinkage, and another 34% had disease that did not grow. Thus 94% of patients had disease that was controlled with this experimental vaccine plus chemotherapy. This is much better than would be expected with chemotherapy by itself. Based on these encouraging results, a randomized study to test this combination compared with standard chemotherapy is in development.

Hedy Lee Kindler, MD, an internationally recognized authority on the treatment of mesothelioma, is a Professor of Medicine and the Director of the Mesothelioma and Gastrointestinal Oncology Programs at the University of Chicago. Dr. Kindler is a Past President of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group. She was a member of the Science Advisory Board of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation from 2001-2014, and remains active with the Foundation.  Dr. Kindler chairs the Mesothelioma Subcommittee of the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, a national cancer clinical trials group. Her research focuses on the investigation of novel agents for the treatment of mesothelioma. Patients from throughout the United States come to Dr. Kindler’s Mesothelioma Clinic at the University of Chicago for her expert care and to participate in her many clinical trials. Dr. Kindler has been listed repeatedly in Best Doctors in America, America’s Top Physicians, America’s Top Doctors for Cancer, and Best Doctors in Chicago.

Remembering our Dad on Father’s Day

The Bendixesby Aria and Bella Bendix, Rising Leaders Council, Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. In memory of Ken Bendix, their father.

Father’s Day is a complicated day for the two of us. Every year as the third week in June approaches and the TV floods with Father’s Day commercials, or “Gifts for Dad” begin to appear in the aisles of department stores, we are reminded that our dad is no longer around. Many times, it can feel like a day of loss rather than celebration.

This year will mark our sixth Father’s Day since our dad’s passing. He was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in November of 2006 and, after a long and courageous fight, he passed away in September 2009. If it is said that our father lost his battle with cancer, he most certainly won the war that is life. When faced with improbable odds and at times unbearable pain, he still remained the kind, calm, selfless person we always knew him to be.

Father’s Day is a time to remember the person he once was—a silent warrior, doting dad, loving husband, and our family’s moral compass for nearly two decades. As fathers around the world unwrap fishing gear and golf clubs, t-shirts and photo frames, we unwrap the gift that is his memory, and celebrate the fact that it is still there to comfort us after all these years.

Even so, at times these memories are tinged with the pain of loss, and each year we are tempted to ignore Father’s Day altogether in order to circumvent this pain. To all those who have encountered loss in their lives, we speak from experience when we say that it is important to resist this temptation. In the midst of busy lives, it can be easy to neglect the memory of a loved one who is no longer around, to store it in that dangerous cubby of our minds that we promise ourselves we’ll access some day but rarely do. Father’s Day serves as a vital reminder of the life that we once knew, and the life that guides our thoughts and actions even when we’re not aware of it.

This Father’s Day, like many before it, our family will take a trip to Inspiration Point. A quiet little spot in Newport Beach that overlooks the ocean, it was my father’s favorite place to reflect while he was alive. Six years after his passing, we reflect in much the same way on all that he has given us, and all he continues to give us even after he is gone. These are gifts that can never be taken away, and it is important to unwrap them not only on Father’s Day, but whenever we may be feeling discouraged or sad.

It is our hope that, by recalling these memories, we can transform the loss we might feel at seeing a picture of a friend and her father on social media or a Father’s Day advertisement on TV into a moment of gratitude for the father we were fortunate enough to have. We anticipate it to be a lifelong objective, and we have no doubt that we will fall short many times. If our father has taught us anything, after all, it is that we are only human, and sometimes even the strongest of soldiers lose the battle. What matters, however, is that we continue to fight to honor our father’s memory, even when it might be painful to do so. After all that he has given us, this is our gift to him.

Meso Foundation Congratulates Dr. Krug on his New Position

Dr. Lee KrugThe Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation would like to congratulate Dr. Lee M. Krug on his new position with Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), which he will be starting in August. He will be joining BMS as the Immuno-oncology Disease Head for Thoracic and GI Malignancies.

Dr. Krug will be leaving his position as an Associate Attending Physician in the Division of Thoracic Oncology, Department of Medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, New York.

“I promise to remain committed to the foundation and the search for the cure for mesothelioma,” said Dr. Krug.

Dr. Krug has investigated multimodality mesothelioma treatment approaches for patients with early stage malignant pleural mesothelioma. He led a multicenter U.S. trial of induction chemotherapy before extrapleural pneumonectomy, and he has a current study testing the feasibility of chemotherapy followed by pleural radiation. Dr. Krug also has a strong interest in novel therapeutics for patients with more advanced disease. He conducted a phase I trial with a WT-1 peptide vaccine, and he was awarded a grant from the Department of Defense to conduct a randomized phase II trial with this vaccine. He is also the principal investigator of an international, phase III trial of a histone deacetylase inhibitor, vorinostat. Dr. Krug led the committee for the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) that established treatment guidelines for mesothelioma.

“Dr. Krug has an unwavering dedication to the mesothelioma field, and I am excited to see what new insight he will bring to the field with his new position at BMS,” stated Melinda Kotzian, Chief Executive Officer at the Meso Foundation.

We congratulate Dr. Krug and wish him the best in his new position.