University of Pennsylvania Health System

Focus on Cancer

Friday, September 5, 2014

Are you ready to Stand Up 2 Cancer?

Each year, more than 1.2 million new patients are diagnosed with cancer every year in the United States.

To help combat this, Stand Up 2 Cancer brings together dream teams of the best and the brightest researchers spanning disciplines, institutions, countries and specialties, to join in a unified fight against cancer with translational research.

By providing these teams with long term funding, groups of scientists from peer institutions get to work collaboratively, rather than competitively, to develop new treatments quickly.

Transforming Pancreatic Cancer to a Treatable Disease

Over the next three years, the newly announced SU2C-Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Convergence dream team hopes to apply advances in immunotherapy (hardwiring the body's immune system to fend off cancer as opposed to more traditional treatment options) to the realm of pancreatic cancer.

Co-leading the effort is Penn Medicine’s own director of Translational Research, Robert Vonderheide, MD, DPhil.

Why Pancreatic Cancer?

As the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, pancreatic cancer remains one of the most deadly. Despite recent advancements, survival rates remain poor, as more than 90 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within the first year of diagnosis, creating an urgent need for new treatments.

Why Immunotherapy?

Clinical efforts focused specifically on pancreatic cancer have failed to improve the survivability or quality of life for those affected. In short, greater research and better answers must be created or found, through novel approaches like immunotherapy.

Today, those diagnosed with the cancer, their caretakers and loved ones face a grim prognosis. To help alleviate this need in the pancreatic cancer community, Stand Up 2 Cancer is bringing together researchers, scientists, and doctors from institutions across the country to work together.

See how Penn's Abramson Cancer is Standing Up 2 Cancer and finding that the Cure is Within.

Patient Documents His Experience with Radiation Treatment at Penn

After he received radiation therapy for a nasal tumor at Penn Radiation Oncology in 2013, local filmmaker Tom Ashley wanted to help others going through the same experience.

As an incoming patient unfamiliar with radiation therapy and the patient journey, Tom had had a lot of questions:

Where do I go? How do I prepare? What is the process like? Will I have support staff with me the whole time? Why do I need a mask? Does having a mask made before treatment hurt?

Tom's tumor required a custom immobilization device -- also known as a mask -- which is used to help patients remain still and in the same position each time they receive treatment.

To better explain the process, Tom brought the camera behind the scenes and documented the experience from his point of view:

What else do you want to know about a first visit to Penn Radiation Oncology? 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

We Need Your Help: Join the Crew of the Ride to Conquer Cancer!

On October 11 and 12, 2014, hundreds of cyclists of all abilities will participate in The Ride to Conquer Cancer® benefiting Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center. The Ride needs wonderful people like you to help with the following:
  • Providing snacks and meals on the route
  • Camp set-up
  • Providing medical care if you need it
  • Marking the route with directional signage
  • Driving our event vehicles
  • Route safety
  • And much more!

Crew Members are the backbone of the event. 

They are our bike mechanics, route guides and food distributors. Because of all their hard work and dedication, crew members experience the same perks as the riders, including access to a hot shower, catered meals and a cozy tent at Camp.

Join us today and be part of a great team! Simply visit the Ride to Conquer Cancer website and choose "Individual" to register. Then, you will be guided through the "Crew" registration.

Thank you for supporting The Abramson Cancer Center and The Ride to Conquer Cancer!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Mindfulness Programs at Penn Help Ease Stress for People With Cancer

The Penn Program for Mindfulness provides powerful tools for coping and personal growth. Combining modern cognitive science with ancient mindfulness techniques, the program teaches people with cancer to change the way that they experience themselves and their world with skillfully applied mindfulness approaches to start anew.

This fall, reconnect with the sources of meaning in your life. Discover new ways to be steady in the most difficult moments, and learn how to connect more deeply with what matters most.

The Penn Program for Mindfulness

The Penn Program for Mindfulness is a mindfulness-based stress management program that teaches you how to use meditation as the primary tool for long-term stress management.

This highly acclaimed 8-week program will teach you a variety of meditation techniques to help you to cultivate relaxation, clarity and stillness in your day-to-day life. You will learn to recognize your unique reactions to stress, find more effective ways to respond to stressful situations, and discover how to use your own inner resources to find greater health and well-being.

The Penn Program for Mindfulness has taught thousands of individuals how to:
  • Improve mood and energy
  • Increase focus and mental clarity
  • Manage difficult situations and emotions
  • Enhance communication
  • Increase enjoyment and appreciation of life
Mindfulness-based stress management is perfect for anyone who wants to maintain focus and learn positive ways to manage stress.

Fall session begins the week of September 22nd. Program has nine classes in eight different locations in PA and NJ. Each course include includes eight 2-½ hour weekly classes and one full day retreat to be held on Sunday, November 2nd. The cost of the program is $569.00. (APA, Social Work and Nursing CE credits available for an additional fee.)

The deadline to register is September 18.

Learn more about the Mindfulness-based stress management class, or register here.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Giving Back: Rider’s Motivation to Conquer Cancer

This October, cyclists from throughout the Philadelphia area will be riding approximately 150 miles to raise money for cancer research at the Abramson Cancer Center through The Philadelphia Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Here are two stories of riders who are making an impact in The Ride to Conquer Cancer. 

"I've been given the opportunity to live." - Eileen

In early 2013, Eileen Doyle went to the doctor concerned about inconsistencies in her menstrual cycle. That March, at the age of 26, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer. A large tumor was removed, and later she had both of her ovaries removed. Eileen endured six months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which took a huge toll on her and seriously affected the active lifestyle to which she was accustomed.

Facing a cancer diagnosis and managing treatment can be one of the most difficult times in a person’s life – the physical pain is terrible, but the emotional challenges that cancer brings can be even tougher. For Eileen, not only did she have to undergo aggressive treatments, but she was still grieving the loss of her 23-year old sister, who had passed away just one year earlier from stage IV metastatic nasopharyngeal cancer. Eileen found it helpful to participate in weekly support groups – finding strength in sharing experiences with others facing or having faced cancer.

Participating in The Ride to Conquer Cancer means everything to Eileen, not only to help her become more active again, but also to give back to her medical team at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center who saved her life. “It means everything to be able to give back to The Abramson Cancer Center and to share with my friends and family the amazing support that the staff gave me to help me get better.”

Eileen will tell anyone how much easier her visits are because even though she’s going to the hospital, it is a great atmosphere with staff that are welcoming and supportive to each individual patient. “I have been given the opportunity to live and with this new perspective I am determined to keep going with as positive of an attitude as I possibly can.”

Read more of Eileen's story on her participant page.

Kevin wants to raise money that stays local, to help local people with cancer

Kevin Kelly was diagnosed over 15 years ago with leukemia.

He was treated by David L. Porter, MD, at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, who is part of a comprehensive team of experts whose vision helped establish one of the oldest and largest Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Programs in the country. Fortunately, Kevin had a brother who was a match, which enabled him to undergo a successful bone marrow transplant and work towards recovery from his cancer.

About four years ago, during a routine bone marrow biopsy, Kevin’s doctors discovered that his cancer had returned. He is now on a daily medication that stabilizes his cancer, but it requires him to go to the hospital every 45 to 60 days for tests. It was during one of these checkups that he saw an advertisement for The Ride to Conquer Cancer and registered without hesitation. To be able to be part of supporting the research that helped provide Kevin with treatment options was all the motivation he needed.

“I’m happy to be a part of this ride so that I can share my own experiences at Penn and help raise money that stays local to help local people.”

Despite his treatments, Kevin feels great and is training regularly, now up to 65 miles in a single ride. Training helps him get through the psychological effects of his cancer by keeping him focused on positive health.

“Participating in The Ride is a goal. Not many people can ride 150 miles in a weekend, but with the training and support from The Ride guides, you will accomplish something great that will go towards a great cause.”

Read more of Kevin's story on his participant page.

Join the Crew

Are you interested in getting involved in The Ride to Conquer Cancer, but don’t want to ride 150 miles? We still need you!

We are actively seeking people to join our crew team, volunteering to support the hundreds of riders along their route by:
  • Providing snacks and meals on the route
  • Setting up camp
  • Providing medical care if you need it
  • Marking the route with directional signage
  • Driving our event vehicles
  • Helping with route safety
  • And much more!
Crew members are the backbone of the event. They are our bike mechanics, route guides and food distributors. Because of all their hard work and dedication, crew members experience the same perks as the riders such as access to a hot shower, catered meals and a cozy tent at Camp.

Join us today and be part of a great team!

Learn more about becoming a crew member, or contact Bridget at 215-323-5005 or

Friday, August 29, 2014

Unique Program for Cancer Patients Inspires Creativity, Healing

Photo of Sarah Guy
Sarah Guy
Sarah Guy was diagnosed with stage III low-grade ovarian cancer in March 2011 and has since documented the restoration of her health on her blog. In this blog, she talks about the Walkabout program, a supportive care program for patients and care partners that combines mindfulness skills training with easy mindful walking outside, the use of digital photography and collage-making.

This past winter and spring was a heavy, formidable time for me. I was recovering from a bowel resection surgery, and while my body was healing, my oncologist and I were trying to plan my next course of treatment. I had so many questions, “Should I enroll in a trial? Which one? Where? Should I give the current treatment a little more time?” I was feeling confused, conflicted and fragile.

After leaving an oncology appointment, I noticed a Walkabout flyer in the waiting room. The words “walking,” “outside,” “art,” and “photography” stood out to me. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to do some exercise appropriate for my recovery while also processing my wide-ranging emotions. After an initial screening call with Caroline Peterson, the Walkabout program facilitator, I knew it was going to be a special program. She took the time to thoroughly explain the program goals and structure and to answer my questions. Her thoughtfulness and thoroughness appealed to my fragile state. It was a well cared-for program, and I was going to be well cared-for within it.

On the first day of the program, Caroline explained to us the evidence-based benefits of mindfulness, gave us an overview of the art materials and then guided us through making our first collage. Of the nine participants, seven of us had limited experience with art-making. She encouraged us to have fun and to play, and reminded us that there were no mistakes. Hers were words and instructions that I did not often hear within my cancer realm. So much of the cancer landscape is filled with battle language and imagery, and patients and doctors are continually confronted with high-stakes decisions and actions. But from day one in Walkabout, I heard “gentleness,” “kindness,” “play.” It was an environment that I welcomed and embraced.

During that first session, the only thing I felt compelled to do with the art materials was to create an image depicting a stable foundation and to organize the rest of the pieces in a symmetrical way. Upon looking at my completed work, I realized that my collage reflected my desires: I wanted order, structure, and stability in my life. I wanted a treatment plan in which everything fit nicely together.

During the subsequent sessions, Caroline introduced us to the attitudinal foundations of mindfulness practice: non-judging, patience, beginner's mind, trusting ourselves, non-striving, acceptance, and letting be/letting go. Each week when making collages, if I let the collage unfold, if I implemented the attitudinal foundations, then the collage became a valuable source of personal insight. Within each collage I could see representations of my preoccupations and priorities. Collage-making became a tool to help me become aware of and understand my emotions and reactions.

After each week's session, I shared photos of my collages with my family and friends, along with my interpretations of them. At times I'm concerned that loved ones get fatigued from hearing about my on-going treatments, but the collages were a fresh way to facilitate conversation. I was able to articulate and share deeper emotions in an accessible format, and my family and friends were very grateful that I shared my insights with them.

Initially, I valued Walkabout as a respite from daily distractions and the on-going high-stakes decisions and actions of cancer treatment. It was uninterrupted time for myself - time to get reacquainted with myself, to relax, to play. For those 2.5 hours each week, everything was taken care of. Caroline would greet us with a sincere, “How are you doing? So glad you are here.” Dinner was provided. Parking was paid for. And it was place to be with others who shared the values of mindfulness, who were on a similar journey, and who appreciated each other's journey.

As the program went on, I found myself dedicating more time to creative projects, and it was becoming more natural for me to observe my thoughts, feelings, and reactions with less judgment and with more trust and patience. As I continue my cancer treatments, I now feel better equipped to handle the stress and decision-making processes, and to use my ability, as Caroline informed us, to confront the lion.

Walkabout sessions are just one of the many supportive services at the Abramson Cancer Center. Learn more about the Walkabout program here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cancer-Fighting Recipe: Chicken Ratatouille

In this Mediterranean variation of the classic French vegetable stew, the chicken soaks up the wonderful flavors of ratatouille: peppers, garlic, tomatoes and herbs. This dish is versatile in that it can be made as a one pot meal with chicken or vegetarian (hold the chicken).

Multiple ingredients have properties which may be cancer fighting, antibacterial and/or anti-inflammatory including eggplant, garlic, tomatoes and lemon. Red pepper is twice as high in vitamin C and 11 times higher in beta carotene than green pepper. Zucchini, readily available through local farmers in the summer, and is high in vitamin C.

Chicken Ratatouille

  • 1 medium eggplant cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cut up chicken (approximately 3 lbs)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 peppers (1 green, 1 red), seeded and cubed
  • 1 medium zucchini cut in 1-inch cubes
  • 2 chopped tomatoes
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  1. Lay eggplant cubes on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and let sit for 15 minutes. Blot excess water. 
  2. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Brown chicken pieces in a single layer for about 5 minutes per side. Remove chicken and set aside. 
  3. Pour off remaining fat from the Dutch oven. Add onion and garlic. Saute until onion is tender - about 2 minutes. Add green and red bell peppers for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, parsley, oregano, basil and pepper. Mix well
  4. Scoop the chicken to half of the pan. Return chicken to the Dutch oven and cover with vegetables. Season ratatouille with salt to taste. Simmer for 25 minutes until vegetables and chicken are tender. Add the juice of 1 lemon for the last 5 minutes. 

Source: 365 Ways to Cook Chicken by Cheryl Sedaker, Harper Row Publishers, 1986

Debra DeMille, MS, RD, CSO, is a nutritional counselor at the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine Pennsylvania Hospital. Dietitians at the Abramson Cancer Center provide educational programs about nutrition that are open to patients as well as the community. Cancer-fighting recipes on this blog are the product of the quarterly series "Cooking Nutritious and Delicious Foods," which promotes seasonal healthy foods with cancer-fighting properties.
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