From Sidewalks to Science: An On-Route Look at Komen’s Research with Dr. Alana Welm

Day 1 of the Susan G. Komen 3day walk in Novi, Michigan on August 4, 2017.

Opening Ceremonies

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

Although I do not have a family history of breast cancer, cancer has greatly affected my family. I work closely with many patient advocates in breast cancer research, and have seen far too many succumb to breast cancer. As our population ages, I believe that cancer will surpass heart disease as the leading killer. Since breast cancer is the most common deadly cancer in women, I am extremely motivated to make a difference toward eliminating this disease that affects so many.

Dr. Alana Welm

On the Route

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

So far, our most important findings are centered on understanding how metastatic (or Stage IV) tumors arise, and the role the cells around the tumor play in regulating that process. We discovered that the RON kinase protein regulates metastasis and makes it easier for metastatic tumors to grow. We’ve shown that RON kinase inhibitors can block this process and reduce metastasis. We are now launching a new clinical trial to test a RON kinase inhibitor in breast cancer patients with bone metastasis, and we hope this study will help to determine the potential effectiveness of this drug in preventing and treating breast cancer metastasis.

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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?

I was very lucky to be the recipient of a Komen postdoctoral fellowship when I was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, which launched my independent career. The findings from that work led to my current faculty position, which I started 10 years ago. As a young principal investigator, I received a Komen Career Catalyst Award and, more recently, the Komen Leadership Award as a Komen Scholar. Several of my postdocs have received Komen fellowships as well and continued their careers in breast cancer. Without Komen funding, it’s hard to imagine what my lab would be doing now!

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Day 2

What would to somebody who’s just been diagnosed with breast cancer?

Keep the hope. Our understanding of this complicated disease has grown immensely and has led to new approaches, like immunotherapy, that might work even on very complex tumors for which we do not have current therapeutic approaches. Also, get involved! Involvement of patient advocates really does change the landscape of research in ways that can impact everything from research project funding to how clinical trials are conducted.

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Cheering Station

Look at all of these enthusiastic supporters out along the route! How has working with patient advocates impacted your research from a patient perspective?

I have had patient advocates ask questions that have really challenged the “why” to what we planned to investigate. There are many research questions that are very scientifically interesting and important, but would not change patient care in the foreseeable future. Also, spending time in the clinic has made me realize the limitations of what can be done, and I’ve learned to prioritize our research efforts toward directions that can be practically executed in the clinic. Now, our lab is balanced between finding new discoveries that could eventually make a difference, and those that could make a difference now.

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Mile 59

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

We are about to open a Phase Ib clinical trial, which is based on our work in bone metastasis, which all started when I was a Komen postdoctoral fellow. It has taken 15 years of research in this new area, but we are excited to see the results, and what they could mean for women living with bone metastases. This would be a huge step in treating metastatic breast cancer, and making a significant impact in the lives of patients.

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Closing Ceremonies

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

My lab has been funded by Komen for many years, including several fellowships for my postdocs and we have published Komen-funded research in journals. None of these advancements would be possible without the support of Komen fundraisers, like the 3-Day participants.

Dr. Alana Welm is an Associate Professor at the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute and has been a Komen Scholar since 2016. Since 1982, Susan G. Komen has funded more than $956 million in breast cancer research, second only to the U.S. government and more than any other nonprofit in the world. Learn more here.

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Pit Stop

Two things to know about Dr. Welm:

  1. To clear my head, I like to trail run or go fly fishing. Both of these activities force me to stop thinking about the lab for a while and push the “reset” button.
  2. My husband, Bryan Welm, also runs a breast cancer research lab. We have two children (ages 13 and 11), and live in Park City, Utah. They are well versed in breast cancer from conversations at our dinner table!

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Grab and Go

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

  1. Breast cancer is the most common deadly cancer in women, so every step is a crucial one in the fight for a cure.
  2. Many research labs, postdoc fellowships and clinical trials are done thanks to Komen-funded research. None of the advancements that resulted from this work would be possible without the support of Susan G. Komen fundraisers, like the 3-Day.
  3. 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. Your dollars are being put to real use!

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Sample Tweet:

Take an On-Route Look at @SusanGKomen’s Research in our latest “Sidewalks to Science” chat with Dr. Alana Welm (link) #The3Day

Sample Facebook Post:

Take an On-Route Look at @SusanGKomen’s Research in our latest “Sidewalks to Science” chat with Dr. Alana Welm! She, and other researchers and scientific advocates, are making great strides in cancer research, especially in regards to metastatic breast cancer. (link) #The3Day

Introducing the 2017 Michigan Susan G. Komen 3-Day Honor Speakers

We began our 2017 Susan G. Komen 3-Day season in Michigan with an inspiring and beautiful Opening Ceremony as the sun rose above the Walled Lake Western High School. Walkers, crew members, and supporters joined their hearts and hopes in the shared promise of bringing about the end of breast cancer, one footstep at a time. In every city this year, we will be having one of our amazing participants co-host the Opening Ceremony. Take some time to get to know our Opening Ceremony speakers, who moved us to tears and action as we began our 60-mile journey.

Renee Barney – My Family

It is my honor to walk the 3-Day, and I am continually humbled and amazed at the generosity of people. This year is my tenth year walking, and all three of my daughters are participating with me because we’re fighting for a world without breast cancer. I’m Renee, and I am More Than Pink.

Nancy Sinelli – My Daughter

I am walking for my incredible daughter, Gina Guerreso, who has shown me and our family what the words courage, strength, positivity and determination truly mean. She has been an example to all of us and we will hold her in our hearts as we walk each step of this 60-mile journey. I’m Nancy, and I am More Than Pink.

Lisa Zenker – My Aunt

My sister and I started walking in 2011 because our mom fought breast cancer for 15 years. We had an amazing childhood with such great memories, but we grew up knowing breast cancer. A few months after our first 3-Day, our mom lost her battle. This 3-Day, I will walk with my Aunt Judy and Aunt Linda close to my heart. They’ve both survived breast cancer in recent years and I’m so proud of them. I’m Lisa and I am More Than Pink.

Gretchen Pitluk – My Mother

There are many reasons why I walk, but today, I have the honor of remembering my mother, Suzanne Pitluk, who passed away from breast cancer in 2011. She was a mother, sister, and many other titles, but most importantly, she was a warrior against breast cancer. This weekend, as I walk with my daughter, Mia, we will channel my mother’s passion, love, and fighting spirit. I’m Gretchen and I am More Than Pink.

Hannah Shore – My Grandmother

In 2008, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily, because of early detection, she is now a 9-year survivor. This is my first 3-Day, and I walk for both of my grandmothers. I’m Hannah and I am More Than Pink.

Kathie Lienemann – My Sister

I walk with my sister who was diagnosed at age 35, but today is a 19-year survivor. I walk because every year when I get my mammogram, I’m afraid. Afraid I’ll hear those words. I walk because it is time to end it. I’m Kathie and I am More Than Pink.

Beth Northman – Ceremony Host

I started walking in the 3-Day not knowing anyone that had been affected by breast cancer. But in the past 16 years, I’ve had eight teammates diagnosed with breast cancer, the most recent had surgery just a few months ago and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. I continue to walk for these brave women, my friends, and for all those who have battled breast cancer. I’m Beth, and I am More Than Pink.

Route Hours, Cabooses, and Sweep Vans, Oh My! Behind the Scenes on the 3-Day Route

If you’ve been out on the 3-Day route before, you’ve likely noticed a bike with a pink flag that follows the line of walkers along the route. The caboose is a 3-Day staff member who rides behind our last walkers to make sure that everyone gets to each pit stop and back to camp in a safe and timely manner. Each year, in our post-event survey we often get questions about route hours, route safety, and sweep vans.

We wanted to take this opportunity to explain why we have some of the route procedures that we do, and also let you know about a change to our sweep vans and busses this year. We had some questions for two of our seasoned cabooses, Coach Gayla of the Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day, and Robin, the 3-Day Crew & Volunteer Operations Manager, to get the inside scoop on why the caboose and our pit stop and route hours are such an important part of keeping our 3-Day family safe on the route.

Coach Gayla poses on the 2016 Michigan 3-Day with football team members who did an awesome job cheering on our walkers.

Is it “bad” if you end up near the caboose?

Of course it’s not bad to be walking near the caboose! We love company, but we don`t want walkers to lag along the route and get behind schedule. If we ride up behind you while you’re walking we’ll let you know that you’re the last walker and how we’re doing on time. If it looks like your pace won’t get you to the next pit stop before it closes, we’ll present you with options: to pick up the pace (we know this isn’t always possible) or to get in the next sweep van once it arrives. They will gladly give you a lift to the next pit stop so you can rest, refuel and rehydrate before the stop closes.

Have no fear if the caboose is near! Photo graciously provided by walker Robin Collison.

Why do pit stops close at a specific time?

We are required by the city to set up pit stops along the route during certain times of the day. We are not allowed to have them open 24 hours a day for all three days or even the 8-12 hours it takes you to walk the route. So we need to make sure that the walkers move along the route at a comfortable, but continuous pace, so that no one is on the route after dark, or after the pit stops have packed up and left or even after the police and route safety are scheduled to be done for the day. We also want to respect the time of the crew members out on the route so that they can get back to camp to enjoy dinner and festivities, too. You may not know it, but they’ve been out at that pit stop for hours before you came through, setting up and getting ready.

Our amazing crew members need breaks, too!

Why does the route open and close at specific, set times?

The route opens after sunrise and closes before sundown so that the walkers and crew will not be on the route in the dark. These times will vary from city to city, as daylight hours vary during the year. And there are other factors, like in Twin Cities on day one, the route is short so we close the route early, to keep the pace consistent across all three days. In San Diego, we keep the route open after sunset from the last pit stop into camp because it is partially lighted and we hand out flashlights.

A beautiful and balmy morning greets San Diego walkers as they leave camp for Day 2 of the 2016 3-Day.

I don’t like feeling rushed on the route. Can’t we just walk at our own pace and arrive when we want to?

I know it’s no fun to feel like you’re being tailed, but there’s a reason we keep the walkers on a schedule. We ask walkers to average a pace of 3 miles an hour in order to complete each day’s route before dark. In addition to safety reasons, remember, it’s not just you out there―from Pit Stop crew, Route Safety, local police, to Sweep and Route Marking, the volunteers are out there supporting you. We want to respect their time and energy and allow them to get back to camp to enjoy dinner and the festivities, and start again bright and early the next day.

Robin smiles with some of our energetic route support cheerleaders!

I worry that if I take a sweep van, it means I didn’t really “do” all 60 miles. What do you think?

While we know the most important thing is the funds we raise, we totally understand it can be disappointing to you personally if you don’t walk all 60 miles you set out to do. For your own safety, you may need to catch a lift on a sweep van for just a bit here and there, and then get back on the route and walk what you can. We want you to walk in to camp and the Closing Ceremony to experience the joy of the event, so don’t push yourself to the point of exhaustion or injury. Your overall event experience will be far less enjoyable if you do.

We’ve also got a helpful hint for you! New this year: the Lunch and Camp Shuttles will be passenger vans instead of busses. If you can’t walk anymore and you’re done for the day, make your way to a pit stop, then catch a Shuttle van to lunch or camp. In the past these shuttles were large busses that used to wait at each route stop until the stop closed. Rather than waiting at each stop until it closes, the Shuttle vans will now leave each stop on a regular schedule. This will allow you to move forward to lunch or camp and keep moving forward more quickly.

There’s no shame in letting us sweep you off your feet.

We hope that helps clear up any questions about why we enforce our route and pit stop hours, and why the caboose and sweep vans are here to help. But if you do have any more questions, ask them below, and we’ll have our friendly coaches reach out to you with a response. Your safety is our number one priority―and we know that working together for a safe and incredible experience means we’re 60 miles closer to ending breast cancer forever.