I can't remember having that "light bulb moment" when I knew pediatric cancer was what I wanted to focus on. As an intern, I became interested in aplastic anemia. That is where the bone marrow makes too few blood cells. Then I became more interested in leukemia. That is when the bone marrows makes too many blood cells. I was fortunate to work with some phenomenal physician-scientists who ultimately became my role models. We would talk about the mechanisms relating to why the bone marrow did not work well. While taking care of these patients, I discovered that I wanted to further explore the complexities of hematologic malignancies.
After being a physician-scientist, working in the clinic and in the laboratory, I’m able to look back and see how research is having a real impact on the lives of these children and their families. For example, I treated two teenage girls, 16 years apart, who had acute promyelocytic leukemia. The first young lady received the standard intensive chemotherapy treatment. Her experience was quite typical - lots of inpatient stays, fevers, mouth sores, hair loss, nausea and vomiting. Her leukemia recurred. She underwent a bone marrow transplant, but she survived. I had the pleasure to dance with her at her wedding years later. The second girl, however, was treated with two new drugs. The intensity of the treatment and the side effects she experienced were tremendously different than that of the first girl. She never had to be hospitalized. She did not need a painful bone marrow transplant. All because of the developments made from the research on how we treated children with leukemia.
One thing I’d love to do better is to publicize what’s happening right here in Richmond with pediatric cancer research. We're continually working to bring new therapies and cutting-edge diagnostics to the community. It's my hope that Richmond gains a national reputation for cutting-edge pediatric cancer research. We have tanks of zebrafish which we are modeling in pediatric leukemia and identifying which genes contribute to leukemia. By identifying those genes, we can develop early detection tests and intervene more successfully. This is an example of the unique research that our team is conducting here in Richmond.
The children and their families are my inspiration, whether my work is in the lab, in the clinic, or at the bedside. It’s hard for me when we lose a patient, but their brief lives drives me to work more diligently. These families can't afford to wait years for a breakthrough. I'm impatient too. The success in treating childhood leukemia teaches me that it can be cured through creative and innovative clinical and laboratory research.
(Note: These photos were part of a series that ran in September 2016 for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Photographer Kristin Seward spent many hours with the families and staff whom Connor's Heroes has come to know as we work together to help these brave children and support the research funded through the Connor's Heroes Pediatric Cancer Research Fund. https://www.kristinseward.com)
We are standing at a crossroads to determine where we go forward for childhood cancer research. Seth Corey, MD, MPH, came to Richmond Virginia in October 2015 as the first endowed chair who's focused on childhood cancer at VCU Massey Cancer Center. Will you give $5, $10, $25 in honor of his desire to discover better treatments and ultimately cures for children battling cancer? Your gift will fund the Connor's Heroes Pediatric Cancer Research Fund and the Jamie Hess Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Fund. Give online: https://interland3.donorperfect.net/weblink/weblink.aspx?name=E329683&id=3