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Running For More…

The personal blog and website of Kristen Cincotta

Posts Tagged ‘Inspiration’

Gone, But Never Forgotten

Friday, April 5th, 2013

I know that I still owe everyone a recap on my first half marathon and an update on the results of my Running for the ROC fundraiser. Those posts will be coming, soon. But tonight, I wanted to talk for a minute about Bridget Spence.

Bridget, featured in an ad for Komen for the Cure

Bridget was a member of my pink family. I never had the privilege of meeting Bridget, but as part of the extended 3 Day family, I felt like I knew her. I think a lot of us felt that way. She was so open and honest in her blog, My Big Girl Pants, it was hard not to feel like she was an old friend. Today, we all received word that after a long battle with breast cancer, Bridget passed away last night surrounded by those who truly did know and love her best.

Bridget’s cancer was similar to my mom’s. As similar as a cancer can be, I guess, when it strikes a woman in her early 60s and a young lady in her early 20s. Both of their cancers were/are HER2+, a protein marker that we didn’t even know was a thing until the last two decades. The discovery of HER2+ cancers quickly led to the development of Herceptin, the drug that both my mom and Bridget credited with extending their lives far beyond what used to be expected for Stage IV metastatic breast cancer.

Herceptin is a different kind of drug. The HER2 gene causes cells to express extremely high levels of cell surface receptors that promote improper, aggressive cell division. Herceptin is an antibody that gloms onto those receptors, effectively blocking them from promoting cell division. Unlike other chemo drugs, which interrupt universal cell division processes (and therefore target ALL dividing cells in the body, leading to those side effects that are commonly associated with cancer treatments), Herceptin only affects the cancer cells that are over-expressing these receptors. As a result, it is tolerable for far longer than most chemo drugs. My mom was on Herceptin for the entire first 18 months she was being treated and has been on it continuously since her cancer came back in early 2010. From what she wrote, Bridget was on it for most of her 6+ years of treatment. Herceptin is not a cure in and of itself. Instead, Herceptin keeps the cancer at bay so that individuals like Mom and Bridget can live their lives. Herceptin turns metastatic breast cancer into a chronic condition rather than an immediate death sentence.

Herceptin first gained FDA approval 15 years ago. That’s not that long ago, as far as biomedical breakthroughs go. But scientists aren’t generally the sort to be contented with one breakthrough. Herceptin isn’t perfect. So scientists and the organizations that fund them started asking “What’s next?”. And what was next is TDM-1. TDM-1 is a new drug that is a hybrid of two cancer drugs that we already had: Herceptin plus a super potent molecule of traditional chemotherapy. On its own, that chemo molecule is too damaging to be used in medical care, even for metastatic cancer. It just wouldn’t be tolerable at the doses you’d need to give to get full coverage of a cancer that has spread throughout the body. But! Stick that molecule of super chemo onto a Herceptin molecule, and it’s the equivalent of adding a honing device to missile. Suddenly, the chemo bomb is delivered directly to the cancer cells. That means that far less of the chemo needs to be given to have the same anti-cancer effect. All of the potency, relatively minimal cellular collateral damage. This is what a I truly believe is the future of chemotherapy. And because of Herceptin, HER2+ breast cancer is the first one to have a specific antibody-chemo conjugate that targets it.

TDM-1 was approved for use by the FDA on February 22nd, 2013, when it was rechristened “Kadcyla”. It was in clinical trials last summer when my mom was told that the current treatment she was on might be the last one available to her once her cancer outsmarted it. These last few months have been stressful, wondering what would happen first: would Mom’s cancer would wisen up to the taxotere she was taking and become resistant or would TDM-1 get approved? Thankfully, the clinical trials were successful and the FDA, recognizing the potential in TDM-1, expedited the approval just in time. Mom’s cancer hasn’t yet outsmarted the taxotere. But a few weeks ago, the taxotere outsmarted her lungs and caused significant fluid accumulation, making it unsustainable as a cancer treatment.

Mom will start Kadcyla in a few weeks, if not sooner. And because of Bridget, my mom knows what to expect of this brand new drug. That’s because brave, strong Bridget was in the clinical trials for TDM-1.

When your parent is diagnosed with cancer and you are told that it will be okay, because there are treatments available, you are relieved. You probably don’t give much thought to the people who came before you, who tried all of those experimental drugs and surgeries before we knew what they would do. When you’re told there may not be any more treatments available, it is terrifying. You are obsessed with the clinical trials: who’s in them, what are they experiencing, is it going to work???

You almost never get answers to those questions. Because of Bridget and her honesty, I did. And more importantly, my mom did. That kept Mom fighting so that she would be here for the day that TDM-1 became a reality for her. That’s why Mom is still here, feeling strong and optimistic about this next phase of treatment.

Bridget gave me the greatest gift I have, and probably will ever receive: more time with my mom. That is a priceless gift. In her final blog post back in December, Bridget asked that we not forget her. I know that I absolutely never will.

When I Ran for the ROC at the Publix Half Marathon in March, I dedicated one of my miles to Bridget, knowing that she had made the courageous decision to end her treatments. Tomorrow morning, I will run the Northwestern Mutual Road to the Final Four 5K benefitting the American Cancer Society’s Coaches vs Cancer program in Bridget’s name. It is the very least I can do to honor someone who has given me so much.

Some Thoughts on My Mom on this Mother’s Day

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

If there is one thing that my mother always stressed to me growing up, it was the importance of education.  It is fitting, then, that the two things that I’ve learned that have most shaped who I am as an adult, I learned from watching my mom.

The first thing that I learned from my mom was how to be tough.  Mom doesn’t get enough credit for it, but she’s one tough lady.  She’s faced a lot in her life.  She was the second oldest of seven in a family that didn’t have a lot of money.  After graduating from SUNY Potsdam with a four year degree in English, Mom embarked on a winding career path that would ultimately include stints as a bank teller, computer programmer, FTZ administrator and finally, self-employed consultant.  At each step in her journey, Mom took advantage of every opportunity that was presented to her, always fighting for the next rung on the ladder of life.  She has started her own company not once, but twice.  When she felt that her original business partners weren’t acting in good faith, she stood up to them even when they brought a lawsuit against her.  Her current company, FTZ Consulting, has flourished as a result of her hard work and commitment to her clients.  You don’t get to be as successful as my mom without being tough and standing up for yourself when the situation calls for it.

Mom and I at Jen’s wedding in 2005

Mom isn’t just tough when it comes to her business.  Her strong convictions and determination are quintessential to her character outside of the office as well.  Nothing illustrates this better than how my Mom has conducted herself since first learning that she had an aggressive form of breast cancer in early 2007.  Over the course of the next 16 months, Mom battled through chemotherapy, surgery and radiation with a mental resiliency that is to be admired.  That July, we thought that her surgery was to be the end of her treatments.  When we learned that she would have to undergo almost another full year of chemo and radiation, Mom simply held her chin up high and did what had to be done.  Throughout her treatments, Mom was adamant that her “regular life” would not change.  She continued to work, often times alternating 20 minutes of work with 10 minutes of rest in her bed just to get through the day.  She also kept up her outside commitments, especially as a board member for the Center for the Arts in our hometown of Homer, New York.  Knowing what she dealt with over all those months, I am in awe of her strength.  She may not admit it, but Mom’s seriously tough.  Anyone that watched her over those endless months of treatments can attest to that.

The other thing that my mom has taught me is to get involved, especially with the causes that you really care about.  When I was younger, I was involved in everything.  I’m not kidding.  Girl scouts, softball, gymnastics, dance classes, school plays, marching band, choir… you name it, I was probably in it.  And if I wasn’t, my brother was.  My parents both felt that it was better to do things than to sit at home and I loved every minute of my busy life.  Alongside us at every turn were my parents.  I watched my mom volunteer for one thing after another, often in support of my interests and activities.  She coached my softball team, sorted marching band uniforms and served on various committees in our school district.  She worked at countless bake sales and concession stands during my gymnastics meets and marching band shows and she sewed too many dance costumes to count.  She is the only person I know that suffered a broken foot from over-enthusiastically pulling out our floor mat before a color guard competition.  Back then, most of Mom’s volunteer activities revolved around what my brother and I were doing.  Nowadays, Mom’s volunteer work is more focused on her own interests; namely, her work on the Board of Directors for the newly created Center for the Arts.  I can’t remember a time when my mom hasn’t been involved in some form of volunteer work, something that has had a huge impact on how I live my life today.

When my mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I knew I needed to do something.  I didn’t know what, but I knew I couldn’t just sit back and watch Mom fight this huge fight without doing something myself.  My childhood friend Mel, who had walked in the Boston 3 Day in 2006 had the answer almost instantly.  She called me up and without even asking me said “That’s it, I’m coming down there to Atlanta and we’re walking in the 3 Day together.  It will change your life and you need to do it.”  And I knew as soon as she said it that it was the right answer.  As I said before, volunteer work is something inherent to who I am as a result of watching my mom over the years.  To be able to advocate on behalf of cancer patients and the biomedical research community of which I am a part seemed like the perfect fit; a very real way for me to help not just my mom but countless men and women that would face cancer in the future as well.  Over the next few months, I followed Mom’s lead and learned a bit about just how tough I am.  I pushed through endless training walks by myself and raised over $8000 in that first year.  Along the way, I discovered my passion for scientific advocacy on behalf of scientists and patients everywhere, especially those undergoing treatment for cancer.  Conquering a challenge that requires mental and physical toughness while discovering a passion for volunteer work and philanthropy?  That first 3 Day walk truly proved to me that I am my mother’s daughter.

Mom and I at Opening Ceremonies for the 2007 Atlanta 3 Day

This year, my mom has once again had to dig deep into her reserves of toughness.  In January, we learned that my mom’s cancer had returned after less than two years in remission.  Pain in Mom’s hip led to a series of diagnostic scans and ultimately a biopsy that revealed cancerous lesions on her liver.  Chemotherapy started up again almost immediately.  The road since then has been up and down.  Throughout it all, Mom has remained strong in the face of uncertainty.  She is an inspiration for me about how one should respond to a truly difficult challenge.  When I am struggling to make it through that 57th mile, it will be thoughts of my mom’s strength in the face of something so much more daunting that will get me through.  This year, I am walking to honor the memory of Marcia, our team angel.  But it will be the lessons that I have learned from my mom that will truly carry me through those long 60 miles.

I love you Mom!  Thank you for everything you have done for me and for everything you have taught me, whether you were aware of it or not.  It has truly helped me to become the person that I am today!

Mom and I at the 2008 Atlanta 3 Day

If you would like to support me in honoring my Mom this year, I encourage you to donate to the Susan G. Komen 3 Day for the Cure in my name by visiting my personal fundraising page here.

(PS – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my propensity towards volunteerism and philanthropy has also been strongly inspired by my Dad.  But his story is for another day!) 

In My Heart Today and Always

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

One year ago today, we lost our Mag Mom Marcia to breast cancer after a lengthy battle.  She is in our hearts and minds today and every day.  It is with her spirit of relentless optimism that we pursue her goal of one day finding a cure for breast cancer.

We love you Marcia and we miss you everyday!

 

The Pink Glove Dance!

Monday, December 7th, 2009

The employees of the Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon put together this video to increase breast cancer awareness. Check it out:

This video makes me think three things:

1. Scientists really shouldn’t dance.
2. I really want pink gloves to wear in my lab.
3. Increasing awareness is really important and new ways to spread that message are emerging all the time. Keep passing along this video to help spread the word!

It’s Race for the Cure Season!

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Hi everyone!

It is now May and in my world, that can only mean one thing: Race for the Cure!

This Saturday, I will be walking (or maybe even running!) in the Atlanta Race for the Cure. The event kicks off at 7:30AM at Atlantic Station and I will be there with my pink shoelaces on! To help me reach my fundraising goals ($100 in five days!), please visit my personal fundraising page at http://race.komenatlanta.org/goto/kscincotta. I have added the link over in the sidebar to make things easier.

As I posted below, my friend and surrogate mother Marcia recently lost her long battle with breast cancer. This year, I am walking to honor her memory. Over the years, Marcia was a strong advocate for breast cancer awareness and she worked very hard to raise money for breast cancer research. This will be the first year in a long time that she won’t be doing her own Race for the Cure. She was also one of my strongest supporters in the Breast Cancer 3-Day. It is only fitting that we continue her hard work, especially on Mother’s Day Weekend.

In addition to my race here in Atlanta, a team has been formed in Marcia’s honor for the Central New York Race for the Cure. A link to the team page for “Marcia’s Memory” can be found in the sidebar. Both of my parents are walking as a part of that team, and I have linked to each of their pages as well.

Please, please think about making a fully tax-deductible donation to any of us taking part in the Race for the Cure. I know far too many people who have watched their mothers face this awful disease (including my own). It’s time to put an end to it once and for all.

In Memoriam

Monday, May 4th, 2009

On April 10th, my friend and surrogate mother Marcia lost her two year battle with breast cancer. Marcia battled breast cancer as she lived her life: courageously and with relentless optimism. She will be missed very, very much.