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When home for the holidays means a cancer treatment center

A patient’s wise advice: Accept that Christmas won’t be the same, but skip the pity party

Dec. 24, 2014 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Paul LaGrange

Paul LaGrange has been living at the SCCA House since October while he undergoes treatment for cancer. His wife and kids live in Canada, and he Skypes with them almost every day.

Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Paul LaGrange couldn’t go home for Christmas this year, so home came to him.

On the day before Christmas Eve, his wife and youngest daughter made the six-hour drive down from Kelowna, British Columbia, to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance House, where LaGrange, 47, has been staying since late October while undergoing treatment for cancer in his lower spine. He has Christmas day off from his daily, three-hour radiation regimen but not the day before or after, so going home was out of the question.

LaGrange and his family knew, however, that spending the holiday in a “home away from home” for cancer patients, as the SCCA House bills itself, wouldn’t be the same as being at their own house. In fact, they insisted on that. 

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How to survive the holidays with cancer

Researchers and survivors offer tips on getting through the season after a diagnosis

Dec. 22, 2014 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

ribbon candy cane in tree

Shutterstock and photo collage by Kim Carney / Fred Hutch News Service

Surviving the holidays takes on a whole new meaning when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer.  Sure, you’re happy to be alive, but how are you supposed to bake cookies when you can’t stand the sight of food? Attend the annual holiday party when you’re wrung out from radiation? Go shopping or wrap presents when your hands and feet don’t work because of chemo-induced nerve damage?

“I feel pressure from others and from myself to make Christmas the best for my kids,” said Brandie Langer, a 35-year-old breast cancer survivor and mother of three who went through mastectomy, chemo, radiation and reconstruction three years ago. “People ask me to do things or help out and I love helping, but there’s only so much energy to go around.”

Dr. Karen Syrjala, co-director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Survivorship Program, said one of the biggest challenges for cancer patients and survivors is to think in terms of how the holidays are now as opposed to how they used to be or “should be” in our minds.

“It’s easy to get caught up in that ‘I’ve always done these things’ mindset,” she said. “But survivorship can be an opportunity to rethink your priorities and go forward rather than carrying around the baggage of expectation.  It’s a chance to focus on the meaning of the holiday rather than the mass consumption.”

Whether you’re still reeling from a recent diagnosis, currently going through treatment or still trying to adapt to your “new normal,” here are some tips to help you navigate the holidays post-cancer.   

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‘Outrageous experience’: Researchers recall pioneering experiments on Soviet space station

Drs. Roland Strong and Barry Stoddard were part of the first U.S. group to launch scientific experiments 25 years ago on the Soviet space station

Dec. 18, 2014 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Roland Strong, left, and Dr. Barry Stoddard

Twenty-five years ago this month, scientific experiments by Dr. Roland Strong, left, and Dr. Barry Stoddard, and other team members became the first-ever commercial American cargo launched up to the Soviet space station Mir.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

If you know just where to look, you can find two pieces of the Soviet space shuttle on the campus of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

They’re ceramic heat-shield tiles from the Buran shuttle, glued to the bases of plastic models of a Soviet rocket and sold two decades ago as souvenirs by a space program hard up for cash. They now sit in the offices of Fred Hutch basic scientists Drs. Barry Stoddard and Roland Strong, amidst the piles of scientific papers, potted houseplants and other detritus of a researcher’s office, where they serve as mementos of the time the two of them were part of a team that made space history.

Twenty-five years ago this month, Stoddard, Strong and their team members working with the U.S. company Payload Systems, Inc. launched the first-ever commercial American cargo up to the Soviet space station Mir, an event that gained global attention and helped to open up international collaboration with the transforming Soviet space program. 

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Talking cancer with your child

New research-based intervention helps parents and children better deal with the anguish, fear and uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis

Dec. 16, 2014 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Breast cancer survivor Amy Anderson and children

Breast cancer survivor Amy Anderson bakes gingerbread cookies with her children in their Seattle-area home.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

When Amy Anderson was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly four years ago, she didn’t know how she was going to break the news to her two children, ages 5 ½ and 8. So she checked out a book.

“It was a cartoon book that was age-appropriate but very simplistic,” said the 43-year-old Seattle advertising executive. “It introduced them to the cancer – but didn’t carry us through the bumps ahead. I had a lot of surgery and treatment and my coping skills weren’t really there. And now I have an immense amount of guilt about it all. I’ll never know what this did to them.”

Grappling with a cancer diagnosis is hard enough, but how do you share that information with your school-age kids – and then go on to successfully parent them while navigating surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and more?

That very question is at the heart of a six-state randomized clinical trial that examined the efficacy of a new cancer parenting program designed by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington. Called Enhancing Connections, the program is the culmination of 15 years of research into the little-studied field of parenting and cancer.

Designed for moms and dads facing any type of cancer, Enhancing Connections was tailored for families going through breast cancer then tested on 90 recently diagnosed moms and their 8- to 12-year-old children. These moms received five face-to-face counseling sessions and various informational materials while another group of 86 moms received a booklet and follow-up phone call, basic guidance comparable to what’s currently offered by cancer centers. After two months, the moms who received the Enhancing Connections tools reported feeling less depressed and their parenting skills improved while their children’s anxiety and depressed mood had significantly declined. A year later, the kids who received the program remained less depressed than the control group. 

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Closing in on ‘holy grail’ of HIV vaccine

Researchers describe a way to induce long-sought broadly neutralizing antibodies

Dec. 11, 2014 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

HIV researchers Drs. Andy McGuire and Leo Stamatatos

HIV researchers Drs. Andy McGuire and Leo Stamatatos have found a potential new way for a vaccine to induce broadly neutralizing antibodies that work against multiple strains of HIV.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

About three years ago, Dr.  Leo Stamatatos, an internationally known immunologist then at Seattle BioMed, was ready to abandon his efforts to develop the “holy grail” of HIV vaccine research – a vaccine that would stimulate the production of so-called broadly neutralizing antibodies that defend against infection by a wide spectrum of HIV strains.

“Everything had been tried, everything had failed, and I said, ‘Come on, that’s it,’” he said. “There was no reason I was going to keep doing the same thing over and over.”

But a presentation by a visiting researcher gave him a new way of looking at the problem – and sent him and his lab team back to the drawing board to continue their quest.

The results, published today in the journal Science, suggest why previous vaccine formulations haven’t been able to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies and describe a potential way forward to hit exactly the right B cells, which are a type of immune cell.

“This is the next wave,” said Dr. Julie McElrath, senior vice president and director of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where Stamatatos and his team moved in October.  “Their findings give us new clues to improve our chances of inducing broadly neutralizing antibodies, which is the holy grail of an HIV vaccine.”

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How climate change, development may be hastening Ebola’s spread

Vaccines and therapeutics are needed, but the ecosystem also plays a key role in stopping the epidemic

Dec. 10, 2014 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Leslie Lobel

Dr. Leslie Lobel, the leading Ebola researcher at Ben Gurion University’s National Institute for Biotechnology, spoke at Fred Hutch on Tuesday.

By Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

When it comes to Ebola, we’ve been worried about the wrong thing, says a renowned virologist.

Media speculation that the virus could mutate to become airborne and be transmitted as easily as the flu caused such public concern that the World Health Organization in the fall felt compelled to issue a statement saying there is no evidence or anticipation that that will happen.

But more than cause panic, the rumors distracted attention from what we really should be worried about: all that we don’t know about the Ebola virus’s natural reservoir and its ecosystem, said Dr. Leslie Lobel, a virologist from Ben-Gurion University’s National Institute for Biotechnology.

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