From Sidewalks to Science: An On-Route Look at Komen’s Research by Dr. Jay Desgrosellier

At Susan G. Komen®, we have a vision: a world without breast cancer. Without the 3-Day community – some of our most dedicated and effective fundraisers and supporters  – we cannot make that vision a reality. Since 2003, there have been over 500,000 3-Day participants who have raised more than $820 million which has helped fund more than 2,500 research projects and 460 clinical trials. Over the past year, we’ve been working to show you how those miles have translated into a direct impact on the fight against breast cancer, funding both community health initiatives and cutting edge research around the world.

Dr. Jay Desgrosellier in his lab

Dr. Jay Desgrosellier in his lab

Today, we are launching a new blog series designed to introduce you to some of the researchers whose work is made possible in part by the miles you walk, the dollars you raise and the blisters you’ve all suffered through. We know the science behind breast cancer can be a little intimidating, so we’re adopting a format that we hope you’ll find familiar: a 3-Day event, complete with an Opening Ceremony, a Pit Stop and everyone’s favorite Mile 59. Conversations just seem to flow easier when you’re out on the route together. So lace up those sneakers and grab your water bottle as we walk a few miles with Dr. Jay Desgrosellier while he tells us a bit about his breast cancer research.

Opening Ceremonies

There’s no such thing as a stranger on the 3-Day. Dr. Desgrosellier, can you tell us a bit about what led you to do breast cancer research?

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Honestly, my interest in breast cancer research came about very organically. About six years ago, it became very obvious to me that, [in the process of working on an unrelated research project], my lab had discovered something that could have a substantial impact on the way we treat breast cancer. I remember thinking we had an obligation to follow this line of thought and see if we could make some kind of contribution toward fighting this disease.

On The Route

Since we’ve got some time, could you tell us a bit about your current research?

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The quick answer is that my lab is studying the stem cells in the mammary glands that play a role in pregnancy-related breast changes and the role similar cells hiding within breast tumors might be playing in the development and spread of breast cancer, which is called metastasis.

But since we have some time to get into the details, let’s start here: the majority of breast cancer deaths are due to metastasis. Metastasis is the spread of tumor cells beyond the breast tissue and into other parts of the body, where additional tumors can form. Depending on where they grow, those tumors can cause organ dysfunction and failure, resulting in death. If we can stop metastasis, we will save a lot of lives. A lot of scientists are focused on addressing exactly this question.

It turns out that the movement of breast cancer cells through the body is relatively easy. However, most tumor cells are incapable of growing in other organs. While we often think of a tumor as being a big blob where all of the cells are the same, that isn’t the case. Tumors are actually quite complex and are made up of several types of cells that all have different functions and capabilities. And it is only a handful of these cells, called stem-like tumor cells, which are capable of initiating the growth of a new tumor in a new organ.

Prior to our current breast cancer study, we were researching the role of naturally occurring breast stem cells that are involved in the changes in the breast that occur during pregnancy, and realized similar cells might be at work in breast cancer to initiate tumor growth.  Sure enough, when we looked at breast cancer tissue, we found evidence of these stem-like cells hiding within breast tumors. This radically altered our view of this disease, and suggested tumor cells aren’t that creative. Instead, they’re just mimicking the normal breast stem cells that are at work during the healthy breast changes associated with pregnancy. We believe these stem-like cells are able to survive treatment with traditional chemotherapies, allowing them to spread through the body and seed the growth of a new tumor in a new location.

Motivated by this observation, our lab’s objective has become figuring out how to eliminate these ‘stem-like’ cells from aggressive breast tumors.  We believe that by targeting this particular subset of cancer cells, we may be able to reduce recurrence and metastasis and prevent deaths from breast cancer.

At Camp

Now that we’ve made it “home” for the night and are enjoying the support of our crew, can you tell us about how your work would be affected without Komen funding?

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If not for Komen funding, I wouldn’t be able to do this research. It’s been an enormous help and I’m very thankful to Komen and its donors for their support.

Day 2

These miles are starting to feel a bit more challenging! Can you tell us about some of your recent findings to help power us through?

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I’m very excited about our recent work – funded by Komen! I believe we’ve identified a key pathway that leads to cell death that may represent the Achilles’ heel of these ‘stem-like’ breast cancer cells. These are the cells we believe play an important role in breast cancers that have metastasized (or spread to other parts of the body) or returned long after treatment has ended. Discovering how to eliminate these cells by activating that cell death pathway may represent a breakthrough in the treatment of aggressive breast cancers.

Cheering Station

Look at all of these enthusiastic supporters out along the route! What would your advice be to those who want to help make a difference in the fight against breast cancer?
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Lobby your representatives to help fund breast cancer research, educate yourselves and those around you about the disease and participate in Komen events like the 3-Day, of course!

Mile 59

The finish line is in sight! Can you tell us about a defining moment for you when you realized what you’re doing has made a huge impact in the fight against breast cancer?

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 I’ve been fortunate to attend several Komen events in the last few months. Meeting Komen volunteers like yourselves, as well as people who have been directly affected by breast cancer, and hearing their personal stories, really drove home to me how important my work is to others.

Closing Ceremonies

Thanks for walking us through your research, Dr. Desgrosellier! Any final thoughts you’d like to share with our walkers, crew and supporters?

 Hang in there and keep fighting! There are lots of people like me out there who are doing our very best to fight this disease. You are not alone. I LOVE the work that I do and am very grateful to Komen and its volunteers for this opportunity.

Dr. Jay Desgrosellier is an Assistant Professor at the University of California San Diego. He is the recipient of a Susan G. Komen Career Catalyst Research Grant that was funded in part through the funds raised by the Susan G. Komen 3-Day. Since 1982, Susan G. Komen has funded $920 million in breast cancer research, second only to the U.S. government and more than any other nonprofit in the world. Learn more here.

Pit Stop

Three things to know about Dr. Desgrosellier:

  1. He is an avid bird watcher and likes to hike in the mountains and deserts around San Diego.
  2. He is a very stubborn and persistent person by nature (just ask his lab!) and won’t give up easily.
  3. He and his team are absolutely dedicated to making a difference in the lives of women with breast cancer.

Grab and Go 

Here are three ways you can use this information to help reach your 3-Day fundraising or recruiting goals:

 Sample Tweets:

My #the3day miles support scientists like Dr. Degrosellier, who is unlocking metastasis mysteries. Thanks donors! [include link to blog post] 

(Follow with)

I love knowing my #the3day efforts support research like this. Help me support more work like this by donating: [insert personal fundraising URL]

Sample Facebook Post:

As you know, I will be walking in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day later this year. Along with my training, I’ve also been busy raising money – money that will fund breast cancer research like that being done by Dr. Jay Degrosellier. Dr. Degrosellier is determined to figure out what drives tumor cells to metastasize and spread.  He believes he has identified a key pathway that leads to cell death and may represent the Achilles’ heel of ‘stem-like’ breast cancer cells. Discovering how to eliminate these cells by activating that cell death pathway may represent a breakthrough in new treatment approaches for aggressive breast cancers. You can learn more about his work and how the dollars you’ve donated to my #the3day efforts are working to fight breast cancer at the link below. Thanks for all your support! [include link to blog post]

Sample Text for inclusion in a fundraising  or recruiting email:

One of the reasons I decided to walk in the 3-Day this year was because I wanted to maximize the impact of my efforts on breast cancer research. Since 1982, Susan G. Komen has funded over 2500 research grants, covering every aspect of breast cancer. For example, one current grantee, Dr. Jay Degrosellier is determined to figure out what drives tumor cells to metastasize and spread.  He believes he has identified a key pathway that leads to cell death and may represent the Achilles’ heel of ‘stem-like’ breast cancer cells. Discovering how to eliminate these cells by activating that cell death pathway may represent a breakthrough in new treatment approaches for aggressive breast cancers. Other researchers are studying everything from what causes breast cancer, what causes breast cancer to spread through the body, how we can improve breast cancer treatments, and yes, even looking for cures. By donating to Susan G. Komen in support of my walk, we will help turn the promise of this research into reality.

Feel the Love: Meet Lauri Y., 3-Day Walker

Kindness. Generosity. Compassion.

These feelings are commonly associated with love-centric holidays like Valentine’s Day, but are also how Lauri Yanis, veteran 3-Day walker and crew member, describes the 60-mile adventure that is her 3-Day journey.

Lauri has been walking and supporting the 3-Day for almost two decades, and is firmly entrenched in its community. Luckily, she has had someone very important by her side for every step: her husband Matt, whom she met on her first 3-Day walk.

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Finding a love connection on the 3-Day has led Lauri and Matt to a relationship based on the principles of “Communication. Honesty. A willingness to ask for help, and a willingness to offer help.” It’s also kept them walking and crewing at least one 3-Day every year since they met. Lauri still remembers the moment of their first meeting on “Day Zero,” as the Thursday before the 3-Day was called before walkers were able to check in online.

“My (random) tent-mate and I agreed to meet on Day Zero, and then it was a last minute decision that we would stay overnight together in a hotel before Opening Ceremony. To get assigned to a tent together, we had to be there at the same time and go up in line together. And when we finished, we got on the very last bus to our hotel. This is important because I am never last! I am always early, but they were shutting things down, we had been there for hours and we got on the last bus. And this is where it’s so funny how fate and karma work.

This guy gets on the bus after us, even later than us, and he made a snide comment. And that’s him! That’s the man I’m going to marry! He was a wise ass. He was sarcastic. […] But, I said “Hi” to him, and the rest is history!”

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Lauri and Matt ended up having dinner together that first night, and shared their reasons for walking the 3-Day. Lauri was walking for a dear friend who at that time was battling breast cancer. Matt, on the other hand, did not have anyone in his life who was directly suffering from the disease.

Lauri explains, “He said ‘I’m walking for my mom, and my daughter, and my grandmother, and I’m even walking for my ex-wife.’ And I thought that was just great!”

The two walked much of the sixty miles together, and a few weeks after the walk, Matt came to visit Lauri for the first time. From there, they united their two families, and years later made it official with a wedding and a “honeymoon” spent on the 3-Day.

“In 2006, we walked two weeks after our wedding so we wore hats that said ‘Newlyweds for the Cure’ and tied little plastic champagne bottles to the back of our tent. We joked that more people should honeymoon with hundreds of their closest family and friends!”

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Though Lauri and Matt have never personally met any other couples who have met on the 3-Day, Lauri has heard stories of them, and says she’s not surprised that love could bloom on the walk. It has, after all, helped shape her and Matt’s love story.

“It’s really central to our relationship. We have lived inside the “Pink Bubble,” and you spend 3 days being your very best self. People are just decent and kind, and inspired to be their best self for those three days. Because we’ve done that together so many times, we can bring each other back to that spirit. It’s truly shaped who we are.”

Since their meeting, Lauri and Matt have recruited multiple family members to the 3-Day, and say that’s no longer a matter of “if” they will participate each year, but rather what cities they will be participating in. This year, keep an eye out for them walking in San Diego and crewing in Philadelphia.

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“It’s such a great event, and any difference I can make for people facing the disease is a big part of it for me. I believe in the research being done by (Susan G.) Komen. I think that what Komen offers to families who don’t have good support, or who are lower income, or who don’t live near treatment centers, that is very important,” Lauri explains. “There is this body of caring people who really want to make a difference. So you see that body, and you want to be a part of it, and it keeps swirling and growing.”

Lauri and Matt are doing what they can to keep the community growing each year. This includes continuing to walk and crew together, doing their fundraising as a couple, and even going on walking “dates” whenever they can.

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As for their plans for Valentine’s Day 2017, Lauri says she is lucky enough to have every day feel like Valentine’s Day.

“We’re sappy like that so we don’t have any special plans,” she laughs. “We do a romantic date every week. I got lucky.”

Lucky in love on the 3-Day, indeed!

 

Tips for Making a Bestie on the 3-Day

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There’s nothing quite like meeting someone, and knowing they’re going to be your new best friend. Someone who has the same interests, listens to the same music, and is passionate about the same causes as you are. Plus, they’re fun to talk to!

On the 3-Day, we walk with old friends, and make new ones on the trail. When we are all walking for a common cause, and it helps pass the time to have someone to walk, sing, dance, day dream, and even share secrets with. Naturally, many of our walkers meet new lifelong friends along their 3-Day journey.

Want to make this the year you meet a new bestie who is More Than Pink™, just like you? We have some tips, including stories and ideas from coaches and walkers who have done exactly that…

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Take the first step:

Jennifer Hanskat, Michigan 3-Day Participant Support Coach, says you should never be afraid to reach out to anyone and everyone to encourage people to walk with you. Don’t be afraid to even ask strangers! They might turn into best friends over 60 miles.

“I sent out an email to the moms’ group from my son’s school asking if anyone wanted to walk with me. Not even 5 minutes after I hit send I got a response from a mom named Susan. Susan was 100% on board and told me she was registering right then! Even though we didn’t know each other then, we became besties and 14 years later have walked and crewed many 3-Day events since then.”

It might seem daunting or crazy, but asking people in different parts of your life to walk with you, especially if you would otherwise be walking alone, can lead to new friends or the creation of a team.

That’s how it worked for Laura from the Twin Cities’ Northern Nippy’s team. She has walked with just one or two friends in years past, but has also walked with thirty or more people on her team. “The more I talked about it, the more of my friends wanted to try it!” It never hurts to ask.

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Connect on social media:

So, you’ve registered and found a friend or two who are interested in walking with you. Want to grow your group even more? Check out social media and the 3-Day online community.

Walkers connect, give tips, share concerns and ideas, and more on the 3-Day Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and message boards.

Jana Kono from Arizona is one such 3-Dayer, who has used Twitter to talk with a growing group who support each other all year long. “There is an amazing group of walkers and crew who have become the best friends. We do a secret pal swap all year and reveal #BFFs.”

Other walkers, like Kristin from Alabama, met friends on the 3-Day and have used social media as a way to stay in touch. She says (via tweet), “How do you explain the beginning of a wonderful friendship in 140 characters? I met my friend Crystal at Day 1 lunch in ’12!”

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You can also use the 3-Day Friend Finder to locate people who are looking for friends to make strides with. It’s new and improved this year so you can now search by location, by participant type, even by walking speed to connect with fellow walkers and crew.

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Attend training walks:

If you’d rather find your bestie in person, or need extra motivation in your training, find training walks in your area at The3Day.org/TrainingWalks and RSVP. Showing up is half the battle after all!

Stephanie Mayer, Twin Cities 3-Day Local Events Coach, says she definitely recommends attending training walks in your local area. “These are a great way to meet people and exchange fundraising ideas. If you’re a solo walker you may even find a team to join!”

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Be bold:

If you arrive at the 3-Day still not knowing anyone, it’s never too late!

Lauri Yanis has walked and crewed in a number of different cities and says on her first walk, back in 2002, she approached the first day with a specific goal. “I set myself the personal challenge that I was going to pretend that every person I met was really interested in meeting me. I was going to approach everybody and make friends as a big, self-confidence activity. And it worked!”

She has met many long-term friends, and even her husband Matt, on the 3-Day.

(PS You’ll learn more about Lauri and Matt next week for Valentine’s Day, so be sure to check back!)

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Make the 3-Day a vacation:

The fun doesn’t have to only last for 3 days! Arrive early with your friends or teammates and get one last training walk in the day before your 3-Day officially starts. Or extend your stay a few days after the Closing Ceremony.

Faren Ann from San Diego says she and her 3-Day Tweep friends make it a whole affair each year. “Besides on event, we travel together and shared Friendsgiving in (San Diego) the last 2 years.”

You could also plan a much needed spa day for you and your new besties!

How have you made friends on your 3-Day experience? Share your story with us!