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.

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!

New Not-to-Miss 3-Day Infographics

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We are now less than six months away from the first 3-Day of 2017, so it’s time to kick your training, recruiting and fundraising into high gear! When you’re reaching out to people for donations, or to ask them to walk with you, it’s natural that people might have questions about the impact of the 3-Day.

Luckily, Susan G. Komen has created new infographics that make it easy to answer these questions, and to learn more about the cause you are working so hard for. You can see the full range of infographics on the 3 Day website, or easily download some of the newest additions below.

These are eye-catching and to-the-point breakdowns to motivate you, and those around you, to continue working and walking towards a cure.

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Fact Sheet

You can also get artistic at your next team meeting or night off from training with our 3-Day coloring page. It’s also a fun way to get your family involved in your cause. Host a coloring night and talk to your at-home team about why you’re walking!

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If you want more information about Susan G. Komen and the 3-Day, reach out to your local coaches with questions, or check out the 3-Day website to find answers to Frequently Asked Questions, along with more information about the 3-Day experience.