University of Pennsylvania Health System

Focus on Cancer

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.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Jim Got his Cancer Treatment Close to Home at Penn Medicine Valley Forge

When Jim, an avid cyclist, was diagnosed with head and neck cancer, he was referred to Penn Medicine for his care.

After his surgery, Jim received radiation therapy at Penn Medicine Valley Forge.

“The treatments were relatively smooth sailing, and the staff was great,” says Jim. “I am nearly bald, but I was told that I might suffer some hair loss, and my only question was ‘How would I know?’”

Now, nearly two years after his journey with cancer started, Jim remains cancer-free and is still cycling like a champ.

“I can’t say enough about the Abramson Cancer Center,” says Jim. “My surgeon Dr. O’Malley, my oncologist, Dr. Chip Staddon at Penn Medicine at Radnor, and Dr. Geoffrey Geiger at both the Valley Forge and the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine always put me as a person in front of me as a patient. Plus the staff at all locations have been phenomenal.”

Jim adds, “I want my story to give others hope.”

About Penn Radiation Oncology at Valley Forge

The Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine Valley Forge brings the expertise and prominence of one of the nation's leading cancer centers to Chester County – including the most advanced treatment, groundbreaking research and the compassionate care of leading experts.

Penn's Abramson Cancer Center at Valley Forge offers patients:
  • World-class cancer experts right in your community
  • 15 consultative exam rooms
  • Chemotherapy and innovative medical oncology treatments
  • State-of-the-art True Beam™ linear accelerator for radiation oncology
  • Consultative surgical services in some specialties
  • On-site laboratory and pharmacy services
  • Access to the latest clinical trials and research, as well as cutting edge treatments like proton therapy – the most advanced and precise form of radiation therapy in the world.

Penn Radiation Oncologists in Valley Forge 

At Penn Medicine, we don’t just treat cancer, we treat your cancer. And, if you need radiation treatment, rest assured. Whichever of our eight locations you choose, whether it’s downtown or close to home, you get the same Penn doctors. Same Penn evaluation team. All part of Penn Medicine.

We work with you to understand who you are, how you live and even help you find locations close to where you live to create the most personalized treatment plan that considers every radiation option available today. Some, like proton therapy, are found only at Penn.

If you need radiation treatment, rest assured. Whichever of our eight locations you choose, whether it’s downtown or close to home, you get the same Penn doctors. Same Penn evaluation team. All part of Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine Radiation Oncology Locations

If Valley Forge is not convenient to you, you can still receive radiation therapy at one of our other radiation oncology locations listed below:
  • Penn Radiation Oncology Chester County Hospital
  • Penn Radiation Oncology Chestnut Hill
  • Penn Radiation Oncology Doylestown
  • Penn Radiation Oncology Kennett Square
  • Penn Radiation Oncology Pennsylvania Hospital
  • Penn Radiation Oncology Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine
  • Penn Radiation Oncology Radnor

Learn about our radiation oncology services, make an appointment, or ask about a second opinion for you or a family member at Penn Medicine Radiation Oncology.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Penn Radiation Oncology in Center City, Philadelphia

"When I came to the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) with stage 2 synovial sarcoma, I needed hope and I needed help. Dr. Kristy Weber treated my cancer in a way no one else could. She saved my leg and my life. Thanks to the sarcoma program at the ACC, I am a three-month cancer survivor.” 
- Megan Dychala, sarcoma cancer survivor

At 23, Megan Dychala was a former college soccer player who thought her nagging knee pain was a result of old injuries. She was young, active, and enjoying all that life had to offer her. But, in October, 2013 she got a phone call that would change her life.

Megan’s ongoing knee pain was in fact a tumor behind her knee. One day she was healthy and the next she was faced with a rare and aggressive cancer. Although statistics were against Megan, she knew she wouldn't let anything happen without a fight.

Luckily Megan found Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center and Kristy Weber, MD. While other hospitals said that amputation was her only chance for survival, Dr. Weber knew she could do better – treating Megan’s cancer, but also ensuring a good quality of life after treatment.

"My medical team worked with me to develop an aggressive treatment plan that included five and a half weeks of daily radiation followed by an intense surgery. Dr. Stephen Hahn was my rockstar of a radiation oncologist and took care of me every step of the way," says Megan.

At Penn Medicine, we don’t just treat cancer, we treat your cancer. And, if you need radiation treatment, rest assured. Whichever of our eight locations you choose, whether it’s downtown or close to home, you get the same Penn doctors. Same Penn evaluation team. All part of Penn Medicine.

About Penn Radiation Oncology at Pennsylvania Hospital

Penn Medicine Radiation Oncology Philadelphia
Pennsylvania Hospital
  • Complete evaluation, treatment and follow-up care for patients with cancer whose disease can be effectively treated with radiation, as well as patients with benign (non-cancerous) diseases
  • Offers advanced treatment options including Gamma Knife®, CyberKnife®, Brachytherapy, and evaluation for Proton Therapy
  • Home to one of the only bloodless medicine and surgery programs on the East Coast
  • Expert care from physicians of every subspecialty to provide patients with personalized treatment plans


About Penn Radiation Oncology at The Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine

Penn Medicine Radiation Oncology Philadelphia
The Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine
  • Expert care from physicians of every subspecialty to provide patients with personalized treatment plans
  • Home to Roberts Proton Therapy Center, the most advanced form of radiation therapy
  • Provides patients effective communication, mutual understanding and a solid foundation for personal support



Other Penn Medicine Radiation Oncology Locations

If Center City is not convenient to you, you can still receive radiation therapy at one of our other radiation oncology locations listed below:
  • Penn Radiation Oncology Chestnut Hill
  • Penn Radiation Oncology Chester County Hospital
  • Penn Radiation Oncology Kennett Square
  • Penn Radiation Oncology Radnor
  • Penn Radiation Oncology Valley Forge
Learn about our radiation oncology services, make an appointment, or ask about a second opinion for you or a family member at Penn Medicine Radiation Oncology.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tattoos: The Last Step in My Journey to Wholeness

In this guest post from her own personal blog, Jane reflects on her choice to get nipple and areola tattoos as part of breast reconstruction following a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy.

For as long as I can remember, I've been a straight arrow. Growing up, I kept my room neat, did my homework and chose as my friends similarly minded. I did what I was supposed to do, completed what I started, wore little makeup, didn't get my ears pierced until middle school, and never, ever considered getting a tattoo.

Fast-forward four decades.

Not much about my personality has changed, but I do have two tattoos, and when they faded to the point that they were nearly invisible, I chose to have them redone. Don’t bother looking for a decorative rosebud on my shoulder, an alluring bird behind my ear or an inspiring phrase in Latin inked down my spine, however. You won’t find any such tattoos on my skin. In fact, it’s not likely that you’ll ever see my tattoos at all.

That’s because I chose to get nipple and areola tattoos as the final step in the reconstruction of my breasts after I had a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy several years ago.

Like Angelina Jolie, I’d tested positive for a BRCA gene mutation, and this genetic defect – which is 10 times more prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews than in the general population – significantly increased my lifetime risk of developing breast, ovarian and several other types of cancer.

I always knew I’d get the tattoos – so much so that I never even considered not getting them, despite my straight-arrow personality. They were a part of the plan from the beginning, relieving me of the need to research and ponder all the options; list the pros and cons of each; and think, rethink and over-think my decision a thousand times. I’d already done all of that in making the choice to have the prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction in the first place.

All told, I had three separate surgeries over the course of 18 months.

Individually and collectively, they took a tremendous toll on my body and on me, and the scars – both physical and emotional – remain. Although they continue to heal a bit each day, I’m not sure they’ll ever fade completely.

15 months after the last surgery, my body finally was ready for the tattooing. Once the tattoos healed, I could hardly believe the incredible power they had to transform my transplanted tissue mounds into breasts. For the first time since my mastectomy, my “faux” breasts looked like real breasts, and my body looked complete. More than transforming my breasts or completing my body, my tattoos restored the rest of me – my spirit, my soul, my deepest self – to wholeness.

Although I will never again be the person I was before my BRCA test, I’m still a straight arrow – with tattoos. Every day, they remind me of the strength and courage it took for me to change my life’s course to ensure that my genetics would not dictate my destiny. My tattoos remind me, too, that the path I’m on is the right one for me, that I’m lucky to be where I am, and that the same strength and courage that helped guide me on that journey to wholeness continue to guide me today.

Jane E. Herman, is a BRCA2 mutation carrier and volunteers as an Outreach Coordinator for FORCE: Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered in New York City and blogs regularly about her BRCA journey and other slices of her life at JanetheWriter Writes… 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Basser Center's BRCAbeat Reflects on Making a Difference

As the summer begins to quiet down, the Basser Research Center for BRCA's e-newsletter takes a look back at the progress made since its establishment in 2012. This edition highlights the 2012-2014 Honor Roll, the Basser Center Progress Report and installation of the Homologous Hope sculpture.

The Center was created through the visionary philanthropy of Mindy and Jon Gray and is leading the revolution in defeating BRCA-related cancers. The collective support of many generous individuals has ensured that the vital resources are in place to help our researchers accelerate bench-to-bedside implementation of critical discoveries, bringing hope to patients and their families.
  • 2012-2014 Honor Roll - Basser Research Center for BRCA: View the Basser Center Honor Roll to see the many individuals who are helping to lead the revolution in defeating BRCA-related cancers.
  • Basser Center Progress Report: View the Basser Center Progress Report to read about advances in research, education and outreach for the many individuals living with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations.
  • Homologous Hope Video: Watch a time-lapse video installation of the Homologous Hope sculpture, the large-scale piece designed especially for the Basser Center by internationally renowned artist Mara G. Haseltine.
Join our many generous donors by making a gift to the Basser Research Center for BRCA. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those affected by BRCA-related cancers.

Subscribe to the BRCAbeat for quarterly e-newsletter updates covering BRCA news, research, philanthropy and scientific breakthroughs. 
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