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For one climber, the best way through breast cancer is over a mountain

'It’s all about moving forward and not letting something bring me down,' says Marybeth Dingledy, longtime Fred Hutch supporter

July 28, 2015 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Marybeth Dingledy

"I very rarely sit on the couch," said Dingledy. "We got rid of cable TV because I never watched it. I don’t have an 'off' button. I keep hoping one will show up, but no."

Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Life is all about mountains for Marybeth Dingledy — not just the kind you scale, but the rugged terrain you have to slog up, over, around or through when life goes sideways.

An accomplished outdoorswoman with a dozen major peaks under her belt, Dingledy has been hit by a car while bicycling (she landed on her face and bounced), suffered a close call with pulmonary edema and been blindsided by both an inherited BRCA2 gene mutation and breast cancer. The bike accident left her with a broken nose, broken teeth and a concussion. The BRCA mutation and cancer diagnosis took her ovaries, her uterus and her breasts.

It’s enough to make anybody curl up in a fetal position, but Dingledy just keeps climbing. As do the unsolicited donations her tenacity inspires. At last count, the 46-year-old Snohomish County Superior Court judge has brought in more than $100,000 for Fred Hutch’s Climb to Fight Breast Cancer, no small feat considering she hasn’t been able to ask anyone for a dime since being appointed to the bench in early 2012.

“For me, it’s all about moving forward and not letting something bring me down,” she said. “It’s about counteracting the bad with the good. I signed up [to climb] Denali the same day I scheduled my hysterectomy because it would motivate me to start working out as soon as that surgery was done. I focused on training to climb Denali instead of feeling sorry for myself.”

On July 18, Marybeth added another notch to her backpack by summiting Mount Shuksan, a stunning alpine peak located in North Cascades National Park.

“It was spectacular,” she said. “Surreal. And there was a wonderful surprise twist.”

We caught up with Marybeth while she was training for Shuksan — and again after the climb — to pick her brain about breast cancer, backpacking and her all-around audacity — and, of course, to learn more about that amazing surprise atop Mount Shuksan.

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Fertility after cancer: Young women less likely to be told about options

New study finds young male cancer patients twice as likely to be counseled on preserving fertility

July 27, 2015 | By Sabin Russell / Fred Hutch News Service

Rose Ibarra and son, August

Rose Ibarra, a 29-year-old cancer survivor, shown with her 2-month-old son, August. While she was counseled on options to preserve her fertility before starting chemotherapy, many young women aren’t, a new study finds.

Photo by Lynette Johnson

Sometimes you’ll find a gender gap where you least expect it.

For young men and women diagnosed with cancer, many face the prospect of chemotherapy that can leave them infertile for life.

Yet a new nationwide study by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s reveals that young male patients were twice as likely as young women to be counseled on ways to preserve their fertility, such as freezing sperm or eggs.

And while about one-third of the male cancer patients in the study went on to bank their sperm, that fertility preservation rate was four to five times higher than that of young women cancer patients choosing to have their eggs harvested and stored, found the study, which was published online Monday by Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society.  

“It was disappointing to hear that, but I’m not surprised,” said Rose Ibarra, a 29-year-old Seattle woman who had her eggs frozen in 2011, just two days before she began chemotherapy for stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

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‘Made a difference’: Stem cell donor meets her tiny recipient

Canadian woman’s stem cells helped cure severe immune disorder in baby Savanna

July 27, 2015 | Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

Pam Dicaire holds Savanna

Savanna, 23 months old, is hugged by her stem cell donor, Pam Dicaire during Fred Hutch's Bone Marrow Transplant Survivor Reunion on Saturday. Savanna's mom, Athena Gomez, left, holds flowers as Dicaire's daughter and husband look on.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

On stage, the spunky girl cradled flowers, a thank you present for the woman who traveled 3,500 miles just to meet her.

Then, that woman stepped on the stage. Pam Dicaire immediately glimpsed the bouquet – and the toddler headed her way.

Dicaire wept. For the first time, she could see the living results of her own gift, a stem cell donation. She had saved Savanna.

“She’s so beautiful,” Dicaire said Saturday night at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry. Their meeting offered an emotional conclusion for the seventh Bone Marrow Transplant Survivor Reunion, an event hosted by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. 

“I’ve always wanted to say thank you for saving my daughter’s life,” Savanna’s mother, Athena Gomez, said before the event. “Without it, Savanna wouldn’t be here.”

In January 2014, Savanna had received Dicaire’s donated stem cells. The transplant eventually cured an immune disorder that otherwise would have killed the girl.

Under the rules of donation, their identities were kept mutually anonymous – until Saturday when, finally, they shared a hug.

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Bone marrow transplant reunion draws hundreds to Fred Hutch

BMT survivors and donors huddle, hug amid weekend celebration

July 25, 2015 | Fred Hutch News Service

2015 Fred Hutch BMT Survivor Reunion

The 2015 Fred Hutch BMT Survivor Reunion kicked off Friday with a welcome reception in Fred Hutch's Mundie Courtyard.

Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Several hundred people have gathered this weekend in Seattle for the party of many lifetimes – the seventh Bone Marrow Transplant Survivor Reunion at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Attending are 276 transplant survivors, as well as their donors, families and caregivers. 

The survivors were transplanted between five and 42 years ago. They’ve come to connect with each other and, in some cases, with their donors. 

On Saturday night, during the culminating celebration at the Museum of History and Industry, one BMT survivor will, for the first time, meet the donor whose gift saved her life.

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Why cancer research needs business development – now more than ever

Meet Fred Hutch’s Dr. Niki Robinson, the woman who’s helping make it happen

July 24, 2015 | By Dr. Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Niki Robinson

Dr. Nicole (Niki) Robinson joins Fred Hutch Monday as the new vice president of business development and industry relations.

Bo Jungmeyer / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Nicole (Niki) Robinson remembers a period in her childhood when she wanted to be a bus driver.

“That was a pretty fleeting moment though,” laughed Robinson, who will join Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Monday as the new vice president of business development and industry relations.

Short-lived dreams of public transit notwithstanding, the 39-year-old research commercialization expert has always loved science. Robinson fell in love with the exploration behind basic biological research in college at Miami University. She later realized that her true interests lay in how to translate those research discoveries to help patients.

“I knew (since I’m not) a clinician that wasn’t something I was going to do — I wasn’t going to take the research literally from the bench to the bedside — so I started looking for other ways to help,” Robinson said.

Between that realization and her decision to move to Seattle to lead Fred Hutch’s Business Development and Industry Relations office (formerly known as Industry Relations and Technology Transfer), Robinson traveled an impressive career path that included earning a Ph.D. in cell physiology from the University of Chicago and nine years heading the technology transfer and commercialization development team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, where her leadership garnered more than $60 million in licensing revenue for the hospital.

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Nation's top oncologists take aim at sky-high drug costs

Cancer patients praise scathing report; experts from Fred Hutch, other top treatment centers decry cancer care's financial burden

July 23, 2015 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

HICOR Director Dr. Scott Ramsey

“This lets patients know they’re not alone," Fred Hutch's Dr. Scott Ramsey said of a report, published Thursday and signed by 118 of the top oncologists in the U.S., targeting the skyrocketing costs of cancer drugs. Ramsey is Director of the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, or HICOR.

Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Cancer patients were quick to praise a scathing report from the country’s leading oncologists decrying the skyrocketing cost of cancer drugs.

“[The report] is definitely a validation that these medications are ridiculously expensive,” said Erin Havel, a 38-year-old chronic myeloid leukemia patient from Seattle who had to declare bankruptcy due to the high cost of her cancer drugs. “Patients don’t really have much say. We should. We’re the consumers, but we’re more of a vehicle for companies to raise money. It feels like we’re a cash cow for Big Pharma.”

The editorial, published today in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, was signed by more than 100 leading cancer experts from top treatment centers around the U.S., including six physician scientists Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

“The high prices of cancer drugs are affecting the care of patients with cancer and our health care system,” it stated. “This increase is causing harm to patients with cancer and their families.”

It goes on to matter-of-factly lay out the harsh financial realities many people face after a cancer diagnosis, a suite of diseases that will affect 1 in 3 individuals over their lifetime. While the cost of new drugs has soared to well over $100,000 a year, the out-of-pocket expenses patients are expected to bear have also gone up to 20 to 30 percent. Because of these costs, about 10% to 20% of patients with cancer do not take the prescribed treatment or compromise it. 

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