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.

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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

Sneak Peek: Introducing 3-Day in the Round

It’s zero dark thirty on Friday morning, and you’ve shuffled out of your cozy bed and donned your walking gear. You can feel the excitement in the air as a line of brake lights winds around the Opening Ceremony parking lot. Everywhere you look, pink walkers and festive crew are gathering and walking and talking, sharing hugs and handshakes, some for the first time. The air is balmy and the sky is waiting to burst into sunrise, peeks of pink and orange painting the clouds. There’s giddiness, joy, anticipation, and memory waiting all around you; for those first few moments where we stretch to warm us up, to the line of survivors making their way to the stage. Welcome – you’ve arrived at your Susan G. Komen 3-Day Opening Ceremony.

We know how hard you and your fellow walkers, crew, and volunteers work in the many months leading up to the weekend of the 3-Day, and we want to do everything we can to give you an amazing 3-Day experience. While you’re fundraising and training, we have a dedicated team who is carefully reviewing your feedback from 3-Days past, thinking of how we can make the 3-Day an even better experience for you next year. One change we’re so excited to introduce for the 2017 3-Day is the concept of our Opening and Closing Ceremonies “In the Round.”

This year, we’re eliminating the large main stage and focusing on a center stage, so that all participants have an amazing view and are in the middle of the action.

Those who have seen a 3-Day Opening or Closing Ceremony in the past may remember a main stage at the front, with a smaller, circular stage in the middle of the audience. This year, we’ll be doing away with the large main stage, and instead, focusing our attention on a circular stage in the middle of the audience – a concept known as “Theatre in the Round.” Our Event Operations Senior Manager, René, who is a theatre aficionado, shares, “We’re bringing people together even more this year, because we’re not just looking in one direction. We’re looking all around. We don’t want people to speak at you, so that’s also why you’ll see more and more survivor and participant interaction this year, with members of our 3-Day community leading our ceremonies.”

This concept will also be seen in our dining tent, where you’ll enjoy the Camp Show in the middle of the action. We hope you enjoy our new “in the round” style; and chances are, you’ll notice it in other elements of your 3-Day experience, too ;). Wouldn’t it be fun if your tents also had a common area and place to hang out, bringing your community together yet again? Keep an eye out when you arrive at camp on Friday, and you just might notice that this inclusive feeling shows up in a few other places.

We can’t wait to see you soon, and we encourage you to call your coaches if you have any last minute questions, or post here or on our Facebook. See ya around! 😉

 

 

 

 

 

A 3-Day Family Affair: Mother’s Day with Heather Morse

Some moms will spend this Mother’s Day weekend at brunch or the spa, on a vacation with their families, or even by simply taking the day to sleep in and relax. For others, including mother and 3-Dayer Heather Morse, this Sunday will mean a town-wide canning event to raise money for her long-time 3-Day team “Cup Crusaders.” Luckily, Heather wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Joined by her family, including three sons aged 16 to 29, Heather will once again be supporting the 3-Day this year, and that includes on Mother’s Day.

Being a mom has shaped much of Heather’s experience with the 3-Day family, including speaking at 3-Day camp in San Diego last year.

“My sons didn’t know I was doing it until that night, but I thought it was important for them to see. I wanted them to see what I was capable of. I wanted them to see the inspiration, and the hope and why it was so important to me.”

That was evident in her speech, where she broke out her 3-Day journey into steps. She walks her initial 8,000 steps for her boys, because they come first in her life. The following steps are for all the other children’s parents who have the disease and everyone with loved ones who are fighting.

“I wanted it to be more impactful and inspirational, but put a little humor in it. I even talked about lunch where you laugh and cry and talk with people. You can feel alone when you have this diagnosis, but ever since I’ve done the 3-Day I’ve had an outlet and a support group to not feel so alone.”

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Her first breast cancer diagnosis came before her involvement with the 3-Day, but once she was re-diagnosed, Heather realized it was something she had to do. She started off by crewing, and then joined a team to walk those 60 miles. After the first few years, her youngest son joined the Youth Corps to support her and last year, all three of her sons walked side-by-side with her as she continues to fight Stage IV breast cancer.

That diagnosis was the original reason she became a part of the 3-Day, because she wanted to meet others also battling Stage IV. She was looking for a “little hope” from a new support system, and the one she found has also become a support group for her boys.

“It has made me feel so proud, and I was so happy that they were getting an outlet as well. It makes me happy for them to see so many cancer survivors, because it gives them hope.”

20170509_122911Hope and passion are something Heather and her family have in spades, as is evidenced by their increasing involvement in the cause. This involvement begins, and continues, with fundraising.

Though her family was involved with her fundraising efforts “since day one,” that fundraising has grown and evolved over the years. In addition to her annual Mother’s Day canning event, Heather and her team also fundraise on their personal social media channels, at local restaurants, and with a motorcycle barbecue.

“We do a motorcycle ride every year where people pay to be part of a guided motorcycle ride, and then there is also a whole BBQ with live music and vendors. We’ve done it for a few years so almost everything is donated, and we raised around $3,500 last year. Then we had a few local companies do a $1,000 match as well, so we end up making even more for our team!”

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The key, she says, is to look professional, and take your fundraising as seriously as possible.

“You need to have posters and signs and dress in pink and present yourself well. Really try to look as legitimate as possible!”

It is the fundraising aspect that makes the 3-Day truly unique in Heather’s eyes.

“It’s amazing the people that you meet and how they touch your lives,” she says. “This raises so much wonderful money, and so much awareness for Stage IV. When you do the fundraising, you meet a lot of people. You touch a lot of people, and they touch you. You learn their stories! And then on the 3-Day you become a family.”

Morse is, of course, lucky to always have her own family on event with her. This is what she is looking forward to most for 2017; seeing her sons walk and captain the Youth Corps again. She can’t wait to watch them succeed along with her friends and breast cancer survivors.

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These wins, and positive successes, are part of what keeps her going year after year.

“The biggest thing in the world, and one of the ways you survive, is keeping your psychological part of your body healthy.  If you keep your mind healthy, that helps keep your body healthy. Being positive and keeping busy and active, I think plays a direct role in your physical health.”

That’s why you’ll see Heather out and moving with her family this weekend, and this coming 3-Day.