Meet Lisa Partner, 3-Day Walker- and Breast Cancer Survivor

June is National Cancer Survivor Month, and is an excellent reminder of the strength, power and optimism we see from survivors on the 3-Day, and in all our own lives.

Race Pic 2012

We’d like to introduce you to Lisa Partner, a 3-Dayer and training walk leader from the Powered by Optimism team in San Diego. Lisa is a 12-year metastatic breast cancer survivor who has raised more than $23,000 for the 3-Day since her first walk in 2007.

 

Lisa found a lump in her breast when her daughter was only three months old, and after many doctors’ visits, tests and more, was finally diagnosed in early 2005. Her daughter was only 18 months old. From her initial discovery to her diagnosis, she admits that “cancer never really was in my thought process,” but it soon became a part of her everyday life.

Survivor Cred

A few months after her first surgery, Lisa explains “It was found that my cancer had spread to a single rib on the right side of my body. I was then restaged as metastatic. Due to restaging I will be on Herceptin indefinitely. After pondering my thoughts for a few months, I decided to have my right breast and ovaries removed.”

That initial reconstruction did not go smoothly, but Lisa has since seen more success with following reconstruction surgeries. Through it all, she has remained strong for herself and her family. Marianne Masterson, San Diego 3-Day coach, has sung Lisa’s praises for that immeasurable strength.

“Not only has Lisa confronted the trials associated with surgery and treatment, but also the stark odds that her daughter may be growing up without a mother. Lisa’s attitude was to do everything possible to stay alive to ensure this didn’t happen.”

Hug Lady

When she was able, Lisa joined the 3-Day in 2007, and since then has become an active participant, partaking in the Survivor Circle in 2010 and 2015, which she said was a “highly emotional” Experience. When talking about how being a survivor has affected her 3-Day experience, she explained,

“This is going to sound silly, but the walkers make me feel like a rock star. Funny, right?  Survivors are looked at as heroes, even though I don’t feel like one.  […]  Just the fact that so many people join together for a single cause is astounding.”

That feeling of community includes walker stalkers and other San Diego locals, who Lisa says are some of her favorite parts of the walk each year.

Mile 59 2016

“It is unique in that there are so many people coming together for a singular cause. And our community support here in San Diego is bar none!  We have the best city!”

Marianne summed it up best when she said, “Lisa is as dedicated to the cause as she is dedicated to living. She fully embraces living in the present and to me embodies everything the 3-Day represents!”

Opening pic

If you want to make a difference for a breast cancer survivor, or help someone battling breast cancer in your own life, Lisa says it’s very simple; just be present.

“Be available to listen, offer a positive attitude, and offer to do grocery shopping, house cleaning, cooking meals.  Anything so that the person can focus on getting well.”

That is something Lisa focuses on every day. We are honored to have her in our 3-Day family during Cancer Survivor Month, and always.

 

 

From Sidewalks to Science: An On-Route Look at Komen’s Research Dr. Xiang Zhang

Opening Ceremonies

Dr. Zhang, can you tell us a bit about what led you to do breast cancer research?

 My mother was diagnosed with ER+ Stage II breast cancer in 2012. She is still undergoing treatment and luckily everything looks fine now. But as a breast cancer researcher, I know she is still at risk of recurrence, just as many other breast cancer survivors. Therefore, curing breast cancer, specifically metastatic breast cancer, has become the major focus of my research. As a co-survivor, I am committed to providing better outcomes for breast cancer patients like my mother.

On The Route

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

Our research is focused on a single question: How we can harness the immune system to fight breast cancer? The immune system has the ability to kill tumor cells. However, tumors have learned to “hide”  using help from  cells that “turn off” the immune system (immunosuppressive cells) allowing the tumor to survive.  In our work published in Nature Cell Biology we showed that targeting the immunosuppressive cells allows the immune system to do what it should be doing – killing tumor cells.

This approach will undoubtedly affect treatments relying on the immune system, including immunotherapies and some chemotherapies. We will continue to investigate how to target these immunosuppressive cells so that other therapies will work more efficiently. We will study how metastatic tumors differ from primary tumors in terms of recruitment of these immunosuppressive cells, helping us identify more effective strategies against metastatic 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  how your work would be affected without Komen funding?

Komen research dollars were instrumental in establishing my work in immunotherapy. Komen not only funded our research, but also allowed me to assemble a team of senior scientists with the necessary expertise to advise us on the development of our research. This is tremendously important for a new lab to start in an unfamiliar field. I am very grateful and hope to continue to make contributions in this field to reward Komen’s support!

Day 2

What is the potential impact of this research for breast cancer patients?

I believe this approach can improve the ability of the immune response to defend itself against the tumor. An immune system capable of attacking tumor cells could also be effective at killing any tumor cells that have returned (recurrence) or that have spread (metastasized). To enhance anti-tumor immunity would allow us to enhance the effectiveness of several other therapies. We are investigating several different ways of achieving this goal, and working on getting one of these approaches to the clinic as soon as possible.

Cheering Station

Look at all of these enthusiastic supporters out along the route! Are you involved in any efforts related to cancer/breast cancer, outside of your lab?

Over the last four years, I have organized a breast cancer education program. The program invites breast cancer researchers at the Texas Medical Center (including Baylor College of Medicine, MD Anderson Cancer center and many other institutions) to a retreat where they present their research and receive feedback from faculty. The retreat also includes a nationally renowned keynote speaker every year.

To bring the patient voice to research, I have served as the Activity Director for the annual Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference. This nationwide conference provides a platform for patients, advocates, clinicians, and scientists to exchange ideas and discuss the most demanding needs and concerns for metastatic breast cancer patients.

Mile 59

The finish line is in sight! Can you tell us about a defining moment when you realized the impact our work has in the fight against breast cancer?

 I am so proud of our team and that we have successfully established a research program and developed interdisciplinary expertise which can be quite the challenge. We have worked to know a lot about breast cancer cells themselves. Now we also know something about the “good” and “bad” immune cells that have made their way inside the tumors. The combination of this knowledge has greatly broadened our research scope and revealed several new opportunities. We have seen dramatic effects of the immune system on tumor progression. In some of our experiments, an unleashed immune system can sometimes completely eradicate an aggressive breast tumor. If this effect can also be realized in patients, it would vastly accelerate our progress of curing breast cancer.

Dr. Zhang and his mom at Yellowstone in 2013, one year after her diagnosis and surgery.

Closing Ceremonies

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

 We are in the process of understanding how the rest of breast cancers resist or become resistant to current therapies. We believe we have some promising findings and hopefully in the near future we will be able to address this question for all patients.

As a co-survivor, I remember the side effects of my mother’s treatment. Conversations with advocates have opened my eyes to the real needs and hopes for patients, which should always be our top priority in pre-clinical research. These interactions help me gauge the importance of our findings and help us decide the right direction.

Dr. Xiang Zhang is an Assistant Professor at the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine. 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.

Dr. Zhang was also featured in our April blog post Behind the Science.

Dr. Zhang meets with patient advocates Susan Rafte and Josh Newby at the Annual SABCS meeting.

Pit Stop 

Three things to know about Dr. Zhang:

  1. My mom is excited that my research can reach a broader advocacy audience and would like to express her gratefulness to Komen.
  2. Both of my maternal grandparents were biomedical scientists. I lived with them throughout my childhood due to my parents’ busy working schedules. They deeply influenced me and stimulated my interest in science. They also encouraged me to come to the US to pursue my science dream. They both passed away five years ago, but will be forever live in my heart.
  3. Although my wife, Iris Zhang, is not a scientist, she has always been a fan of scientists. She attended my seminars whenever she could and helped me prepare my talks. She takes great care of our family while I work hard in the lab. Her support is instrumental to my research career!

Meet Jen B., a Preventative Mastectomy 3-Day Walker

Jen Besserman first learned about the Susan G. Komen 3-Day via her boyfriend’s mother, Karen. Karen has walked in 24 different 3-Day events for the past 15 years, but Jen’s connection to the fight to end breast cancer goes deeper. “My grandmother is a breast and ovarian cancer survivor, and she just turned 88. A few years ago, my mom found out she and my grandmother were BRCA1+, and last year I found out that I too share the gene,” said Jen.

Jen wasn’t surprised, as she had a feeling she might have it. “Right when I found out, I called my mom and dad and they were more upset than I was. I told them everything would be fine. I didn’t really think too much about it until I met with my genetic counselor and learned more about the gene.” After meeting with her genetic counselor, Jen did the difficult task of putting her emotions aside, and looked at the facts presented to her by her doctors. “The fact was that I had an 86% chance of getting breast cancer and if I chose to have preventative surgery, that risk would go down to under 5%. Those numbers alone sold me on the surgery…and I met incredible surgeons so it was a win-win for me. It also helped that I lived close to the mecca of plastic surgery, Beverly Hills. This made my decision easier as well,” she said.

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Jen’s mom Susan knew about her BRCA gene mutation for nine years, but hadn’t thought about a double mastectomy before. While she had opted to have an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries), Jen said once she had made up her mind about her surgery, she called her mom and said, “Why haven’t you done this? It lowers our risk 95%. It’s a no brainer!”

Once Jen’s mom knew more about the surgery, she realized it made sense for her, too – so she opted to move forward, and chose to do it before Jen so that she could tell Jen what to expect. Susan is a professional baker and candy maker for her company “Susie’s Sweet Shoppe” in New York, and according to her daughter, has the “most positive attitude – all the time.” While there were no decisions made lightly about both Jen and Susie’s treatments, they found the process brought them together. “We are close and I feel that this surgery brought us even closer, not just because she flew in from New York and stayed with me in Santa Monica for four weeks to take care of me, but because we now have this bond.”

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Susan will be flying from New York to walk the San Diego 3-Day with Jen. Jen is a graphic designer at an advertising agency in Santa Monica, and her hobbies are painting, riding her bike along the beach path, anything related to music, and being surrounded by friends and family. Her fundraising efforts have been successful so far, and Jen is at 87% of the way to her goal. “On my one- year anniversary of my preventative double mastectomy in February, I shared a post on social media and let my friends and family know that I will be participating in the walk in November. Everyone has been very generous.”

What made Jen want to walk, besides her own personal connection to the cause? “Well, I like to try anything once. You never know if you will like or dislike something until you try it! I had the pleasure of witnessing the Closing Ceremony this year and the speeches almost brought me to tears and motivated me to participate next year. Plus half of the walk is by the beach, so the beautiful view will hopefully distract you from your sore muscles,” she laughs.

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“When I showed up to the 3-Day a few months ago, I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved. The energy and camaraderie that I walked into was incredible. I can’t wait to officially walk in November.” And we can’t wait to have you and your mother join us, Jen; and we’re grateful to you and others like you for so bravely sharing your story, and being a part of the fight.

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