Innovators Network

Support in Action

Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor Tori Fairweather credits teamwork for getting her through cancer and treatment

As told to Rachel Tompa

A surprise and devastating diagnosis
I went to urgent care on Labor Day weekend (2013) because I’d been having strange symptoms for a while – I was exhausted all the time, and I had a lump on the side of my neck the size of a golf ball. I’d just started my first year of teaching, and I wanted to chalk it all up to stress. I thought, worst case scenario, I had mono. Cancer was the last thing I thought of.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

Support got me through
Finding out I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma – and having to share that with my family – was so surreal. You don’t feel like it’s your life, it’s like you’re watching someone else from the outside. But I was floored by the outpouring of support from my friends and family and coworkers. Knowing that I had those people as my team, my backbone, was huge for me. I know not every person diagnosed with cancer has that support and that’s why I want to share my story. Connecting with other patients and survivors has helped me realize that I’m not alone. 

Tori with her parents. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

A team effort
I chose Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (Fred Hutch’s treatment arm) for a second opinion and once I was there, I never looked back. My doctors were specialists in my type of cancer, and they always made me feel like a priority. What I liked most was that my care was a team effort. There were so many people fighting for me and the best possible outcome. Last July Dr. Stephen Smith pronounced me “cancer-free.” It’s overwhelming to think about how far I’ve come through the months of treatment. I did all of that and I’m still here.

Tori with SCCA oncologist Dr. Stephen Smith. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

Taking the fear away from cancer
I teach junior high, and last year, two of my students also had cancer and were bullied at our school because they’d lost their hair and had other visible side effects from their chemo. So we had a school-wide assembly on bullying and awareness, and those two kids shaved my head in front of the entire school. Some other teachers and my principal also shaved their heads in support. It let me open up to my students in a way I hadn’t before. And I rocked my bald head for the rest of the year.

Photo courtesy of Tori Fairweather

Photo courtesy of Tori Fairweather

I had the best care possible because of research
Not that I wanted to ever get cancer, but I’m thankful to have it now as opposed to 20 years ago. I had the best care imaginable because of technology we have now and the research that made that possible. My doctors at SCCA and the researchers at Fred Hutch, these are people who spend every single day of their lives and their jobs trying to find a cure for cancer. I can’t even imagine where we’ll be in a year, five years or 10 years from now.

Tori on her last day of treatment. Photo courtesy of Tori Fairweather


Past Stories


 

Dr. Carla Grandori, Dr. Christopher Kemp and Kay Gurley

Drs. Carla Grandori (left) and Christopher Kemp, pictured here with researcher Kay Gurley (right), leveraged a $14,417 pilot award funded by the Innovators Network into a $4 million grant and a potential new treatment for patients with head and neck cancer.

Photo by Bo Jungmayer

IN support seeds risky project with big payout

Five years ago, Fred Hutch scientist Dr. Christopher Kemp had a bold but risky idea that government agencies didn’t want to fund: a new way to search for cancer therapies that attack only malignant cells, leaving healthy tissues intact. In 2010, a $14,417 pilot award funded by the Innovators Network gave Kemp’s research team the kick start they needed to test that bold idea. Kemp and his colleague Dr. Carla Grandori teamed up with clinical researcher Dr. Eduardo Méndez to look for new drug targets for a difficult-to-treat type of head and neck cancer. Their preliminary data and creativity won the team another pilot award from the Fred Hutchinson/University of Washington Cancer Consortium in 2011, followed by a $4 million grant from the National Cancer Institute – a nearly 300-fold return on the initial IN investment. Now a new clinical trial for head and neck cancer patients is about to launch that will test the first therapy to emerge from this groundbreaking collaboration. Read more >


Justine Avery Sands

Innovators Network council member and BRCA1-positive “previvor” Justine Avery Sands says cancer research empowered her to take charge of her health.

As told to Rachel Tompa

A momentous choice
I was 9 when my mother died of breast cancer and 28 when I found out that I carry a mutation in the BRCA1 gene that meant my chances of developing breast cancer at some point in my life were sky high. Two years ago, I elected to have both breasts removed in a surgery known as a prophylactic double mastectomy. Of course I was scared, but I was empowered to make that decision that slashed my risk of breast cancer.

Photo credit: Lisa Loop

Send-off gives back
I’m so lucky that scientists made the discoveries they did that linked the BRCA genes to breast cancer risk. That research allowed me to make the choice that I believe has saved my life. Before my surgery, my friends threw me an amazing “ta ta to the tatas” party to say goodbye to my breasts. It was a great send-off, and my friends even joined together to help the cause. We raised more than $7,000 for cancer research at Fred Hutch and the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research.

Photo credit: Lisa Loop

Cancer research gave me options
Thanks to cancer researchers like those at Fred Hutch, I have the chance to fight back that my mom never got. She must have carried the same mutation I have but she didn’t know it. Even though I feel grateful that I was able to drop my chances of getting breast cancer from 85 percent to less than 5 percent, the surgery and emotional recovery were tough. It was a long time before I felt normal in my own skin again. This is me right after my surgery.

IN common
I was introduced to Innovators Network by a friend after I found out that I carry the BRCA1 mutation. At my first IN happy hour, one of the speakers happened to be talking about genes linked to breast cancer. That really touched me, and I wanted to get involved. My husband, Rob, and I joined IN, and I am also an IN council member, helping to shape the program and reach new young professionals in our community. I love IN because I have so much in common with the other members – most importantly, we’re all working to eliminate cancer.

Amazing research in my own backyard
I joined the IN council because I wanted to give back more than just money. When I learned about the amazing research being done in my own backyard and the patient care that comes out of this work, I knew I wanted to focus my efforts on Fred Hutch. It’s such a unique place and I’m so happy to be part of it.


Andrea Towlerton

Fred Hutch Research Technician and Innovators Network member Andrea Towlerton sees IN making a difference in Fred Hutch’s lifesaving work.

As told to Sabrina Richards

Passion Combines with Compassion
I arrived at Dr. Hootie Warren’s lab at Fred Hutch three years ago and joined Innovators Network almost immediately. People work here because their motivation in life is to help others. Working in this environment is absolutely awesome. Dr. Warren combines passion and compassion: He’s enthusiastic about research but also really understands the sacrifices patients make. It’s truly a gift to wake up each day and know that what you’re doing is helping others. 

Get INvolved
Joining Innovators Network is a great way to get involved in the Fred Hutch community. It’s a fantastic introduction to the amazing research being done right in Seattle at Fred Hutch! As scientists, we need to share our excitement and get people engaged and enthusiastic about where their contributions are going. That’s one reason why I bring my wonderful colleagues to IN happy hours. Fred Hutch provides a haven for scientists with interests ranging from infectious disease to diabetes to bounce ideas off each other. IN helps keep these brilliant minds here.

From Bench to Bedside
I’ve studied everything from bats to nanotechnology, but deep down I always wanted to work on clinical research. Translational medicine is the best of both worlds. Every day in the lab is different. We focus on immunotherapy strategies to target cancer, and my work ranges from the bench top to computational research to making sure the lab runs smoothly. Seeing research taken to the bedside is very rewarding. 

Each Person Makes a Difference
My parents instilled a desire to give back, whatever your resources. I feel it’s important to give back to a place that gives so much to patients. Last year, I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania after raising more than $10,000 through the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer — half of that in small donations of a few dollars each. In total, I’ve been able to contribute around $12,000 to Fred Hutch, and I’m just one person!

IN Helps Turn Research into Therapy
Every therapy starts with research. Philanthropy is only growing more critical to keep research flowing as federal funding diminishes. In our lab, we understand the importance of research and clinical care working together, and gifts from IN members help support our quest to create lifesaving therapies.


Follow Innovators Network on Facebook

Join Innovators Network or renew your commitment today!

Contact Innovators Network