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'Have we come a long way'

A bench, a book and a mother’s memories of her son’s 1983 bone marrow transplant

April 17, 2015 | By Linda Gontko, as told to Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

A bench serves as the touchstone for a mother's memories of her son's 1983 transplant

"Wouldn't it be nice if there was a bench we could sit on, and a plaque that said, 'I went HOME,'" mused Linda Donnelly Gontko's son, Chip (plaque and senior class photo, inset), who underwent a transplant for leukemia at Fred Hutch in 1983 at age 18.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Linda Donnelly Gontko called Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in March with a special request. She was visiting Seattle and wondered if we could help her find a bench that had been donated in gratitude for her late son’s treatment here in 1983. Yes, we could, and did.

Diagnosed with leukemia shortly before his 18th birthday, Gontko’s son, Chip, received a bone marrow transplant in the early, harrowing days of transplantation. Fred Hutch had then been located in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood, and that’s where the original bench was installed. When the Hutch moved to its South Lake Union campus, a new bench was placed in Mundie Courtyard. The wording on the plaque – written by Chip – is the same.

Seeing the bench was “grand” Gontko said, as she was touring Fred Hutch and its treatment arm, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Afterwards, in a phone conversation filled with laughter and tears, she shared her story.

When Chip was growing up we lived in Saginaw, Michigan. That’s where he went to school and graduated, and where he died. Now we live on Lake Huron in the summer, at Point Lookout. He would have loved the lake house!

I was a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual for almost 50 years. I didn’t work full-time for three or four years when the kids were small. We had three children: Chip, Mark and our daughter Debra.

Chip was my first-born. He was my difficult child. He and I never seemed to see eye to eye. He was rebellious and determined.

On my 40th birthday in December 1982, my husband, Larry, threw a little surprise party in the basement. I had Chip’s senior class picture on the piano. It was taken in August. Our friend Bob, who had moved to Florida and was in town for Christmas, said, “What a handsome looking kid!” Then Chip came downstairs, and Bob says, “Oh my gosh Chip, you don’t look at all like your picture!” It was December 27.

In the third week in January 1983, Chip had been having pain in his legs and back. He did not attend school and I decided to stay home with him. I was dusting the piano, looking over at him on the couch, and that sentence came back to me. “Chip, you don’t look at all like your picture.” And my heart sank to my ankles. I said, “What’s going on? You don’t look like your picture.” He jumped from the couch and showed me his belt still fit him. But he really did look pale and weak, and I was concerned.

My brother Denny died of leukemia when I was 7 years old. He was 12 when he was diagnosed. He lived three months. He was my mother’s first son, her mother’s first grandchild. I am the oldest daughter of 13.

My husband was already going to the doctor. And so having lived through this with Denny, I said, “Take Chip with you. Have Doc run a blood test.” Then I got a phone call at my office the next day, and they said, “We want to run another blood test.” That really concerned me and it was a long weekend. By the time Monday came around, they called and said, “It is acute myeloid leukemia.”

That was the beginning. 

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Good news at Fred Hutch

Celebrating our achievements

April 16, 2015 | By Fred Hutch staff

Dr. Jonathan Bricker

Dr. Jonathan Bricker, a psychologist at Fred Hutch, demonstrating his smartphone app.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

We want to recognize the excellent work and achievements of our staff and faculty and will be regularly highlighting them in this space. Here are some recent notable accomplishments:

Vote today: Dr. Jonathan Bricker a finalist for ‘Geek of the Year Award' for using technology to make a positive impact

Dr. Jonathan Bricker, a psychologist at Fred Hutch who studies acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, to help people quit smoking and other unhealthy behaviors, has been selected as one of five finalists for GeekWire's annual “Geek of the Year Award" for using technology to make a positive impact.

Community online voting for the Geek of the Year Award begins today. Click here to cast your vote and rally others to vote for this special award. Tweets, Facebook and blog posts are encouraged. Hashtag: #gwawards.

An internationally recognized scientific leader in ACT, Bricker and his colleagues in the Public Health Sciences Division have received more than $10 million in federal research funding to build smoking-cessation programs around ACT and test them in randomized, controlled trials via multiple platforms, from telephone coaching sessions to a Web-based tool called WebQuit.org to smartphone apps. Preliminary studies show that Bricker’s programs are 50 to 300 percent more effective than traditional quit-smoking approaches. Evidence suggests the ACT model could help adults cope with many other addictions and harmful behaviors. For more about Bricker’s work, check out his TEDxRainier talk about “The Secret to Self Control.”

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Understanding Rita Wilson's diagnosis

Oncologist Dr. V.K. Gadi explains the actress's type of breast cancer: lobular carcinoma in situ

April 15, 2015 | By Dr. V.K. Gadi / For Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson

Rita Wilson, shown with her husband Tom Hanks, revealed this week she had a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Photo by Tim P. Whitby / Getty Images

Editor’s Note: This week, Rita Wilson disclosed to People Magazine in an exclusive statement that she has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer and has undergone bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Below, Dr. V.K. Gadi provides a detailed discussion of Wilson’s underlying condition LCIS (lobular carcinoma in situ)  and what treatment options should be considered for women with this condition. Gadi is a medical oncologist who specializes in caring for women with breast cancer at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. He is also a researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Learn more about Gadi’s clinical and research expertise here.

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6 things men need to know about prostate cancer

Experts share their insight on screening, treatment, clinical trials and more

April 14, 2015 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Attendees at a prostate cancer symposium held at Fred Hutch

Prostate cancer experts shared their knowledge about screening, treatment and clinical trials at the fourth annual symposium for patients and families held April 11 at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The event was hosted by the Institute for Prostate Cancer Research ― a joint program of Fred Hutch and UW Medicine.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

For men diagnosed with prostate cancer or who are concerned about their risk, it can be a daunting task to navigate the latest research news.

On Saturday, prostate cancer experts shared their knowledge about screening, treatment and clinical trials at the fourth annual symposium for patients and families held at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The event was hosted by the Institute for Prostate Cancer Research ― a joint program of Fred Hutch and UW Medicine.

IPCR's more than 40 scientists and clinician-scientists collaborate to understand the causes of prostate cancer and its progression, develop new ways to prevent and diagnose the disease, and create new treatments to improve survival and quality of life.

To help distill their latest recommendations and research, here are six things men need to know.

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'The biggest blessing ever'

Cord blood: a lifesaving option for those in need of a transplant but cannot find a matched donor

April 10, 2015 | By Jenna and Julie Gibson, as told to Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Jenna Gibson

Jenna Gibson, 12, received a cord blood transplant after she was diagnosed with leukemia at age 9 and couldn't find a matched donor.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Jenna Gibson, 12, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia when she was 9 years old. She was   treated with a cord blood transplant. She and her mother, Julie, shared their story.

Julie: We took Jenna in to her pediatrician ― it was March 5, 2012 ― and her doctor looked at her, just one look, and said, “Huh, Jenna, something’s just not right.”

Jenna: I think it was because I looked really pale, and I wasn’t as energetic as I usually am.

Julie: As soon as the doctor got the blood results back ― it was just two hours ― she was calling us and telling us to go to the ER at Seattle Children’s Hospital, immediately.

The word “surreal” gets overused. This, this was surreal, to have this moment. I can remember calling my husband, and telling him, “Hey, we’re on our way to Seattle Children’s,” and I’m using this voice that doesn’t match what I’m saying. I didn’t want to get Jenna all nervous if we didn’t have to. But when your pediatrician says, “The ER will see you immediately,” you know that’s not good.

When we were waiting for the test results at Children’s, I said to the doctor, “Do we need to think ‘scary,’ or not?” And she said, “Yeah, you need to think scary.”

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Good news at Fred Hutch

Celebrating our achievements

April 9, 2015 | By Fred Hutch staff

Scott Ramsey & Mario Kratz

Recent notable accomplishments: Dr. Mario Kratz (right) receives $1M grant to study link between high-fat dairy and prevention of metabolic syndrome; Dr. Scott Ramsey (left) pens editorial about factors behind the high cost of cancer drugs

Photos by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service & Stefanie Felix for Fred Hutch

We want to recognize the excellent work and achievements of our staff and faculty and will be regularly highlighting them in this space. Here are some recent notable accomplishments:

Dr. Mario Kratz receives $1M grant to study link between high-fat dairy and prevention of metabolic syndrome

Could eating a diet rich in full-fat dairy reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome – a cluster of risk factors, including abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, that increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke?

Dr. Mario Kratz, a researcher in the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, hypothesizes it could be true, and he recently received more than $1 million from a consortium of five international dairy organizations led by the National Dairy Council to conduct a randomized clinical trial to find out.

The potential link between full-fat dairy and reduced risk of metabolic syndrome “certainly is counterintuitive,” Kratz said, “which is why I think we may have missed the boat on this for so long.”

Dairy fat contains more than 400 different fatty acids, some of which are known or suspected to help oxidize, or burn, fat in the liver while simultaneously blocking the formation of new fat. Full-fat dairy products – particularly fermented ones, such as cheese – also are among the best food sources of vitamin K2, which has been linked to better glucose tolerance and lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Alcohol and certain carbohydrates – particularly fructose – in contrast, are converted to and stored as fat in the liver. While having some fat in the liver is normal, if more than 5 to 10 percent is fat, the condition is called fatty liver disease, a risk factor for glucose intolerance and, eventually, type 2 diabetes. Fatty liver is also a major risk factor for liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.

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