Eight years ago, Bill Parker of New Castle was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, with the FLT3 mutated gene, and thought that such an aggressive cancer could be his death sentence.
But Parker was given the opportunity to enter a clinical trial involving midostaurin (Rydapt) and now believes the tablets he took for 18 months saved his life. He recounted his story to physicians, nurses and researchers at the annual Oncology Patient Advocates for Clinical Trials (OPACT) Heroes Ceremony and NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) Awards Ceremony at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute on May 18.
“I was 43, and when I began treatment at Christiana Care, I woke up every day on the sixth floor thinking this day could be my last,” said Parker. “I began treatment on Jan. 4, and by the end of the month I was in remission. I have so much gratitude for the support I received from my wife, Dottie, and my medical team. Today, I want to make others aware of the benefits of participating in clinical trials.”
The annual OPACT/NCORP Awards Ceremony is to celebrate everyone in the clinical trials program – physicians, research nurses, patient advocates and the patients themselves, said Nicholas J. Petrelli, M.D., Bank of America endowed medical director of Christiana Care’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute.
As a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP), the Graham Cancer Center is one of four hybrid academic and community cancer centers with a distinctive research mission. “It’s no secret that this program is recognized by NCI as one of the best in the country for leading-edge clinical trials and for our success in enrolling patients,” Dr. Petrelli said.
At any time there are about 110 clinical trials, and the Graham Cancer Center’s patient enrollment rate is 21 percent. In addition, the Graham Cancer Center has become a national model for cancer care, prevention and outreach, outpacing the nation in reducing deaths from a number of cancers, including breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
“You have set a standard of care that is improving the lives of Delawareans, and I think you should be very proud of what you have accomplished,” said Delaware Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long, RN, Ph.D., FAAN, who was recognized during the ceremony for her work in cancer care and research, receiving the Community Excellence Service Award.
A member of the Delaware Cancer Care Consortium, which has labored to lower the state’s incidence of cancer, Hall-Long has also felt the sting of the disease in her personal life, as her mother, father and brother all battled different forms of cancer.
“To get this award is humbling, because I have collaborated with so many Delawareans throughout the state who care about working on this disease,” she said. “No one can do this alone.”
Another significant honor went to Stephen S. Grubbs, M.D., who worked for decades as an accomplished oncologist and researcher at Christiana Care and now serves as vice president of clinical affairs for the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Dr. Grubbs received the Research Excellence and Service Award.
“Steve has contributed in innumerable ways — through his own individual care of patients but also through coordinating cancer care and research in the state of Delaware,” said Gregory Masters, M.D., NCORP principal investigator.
A board-certified medical oncologist, Dr. Grubbs is the author of many scientific and clinical papers and for many years was a principal investigator for Christiana Care’s Community Clinical Oncology Program (CCOP), which has played a critical part in enrolling patients in clinical studies for every major type of cancer.
“I started here more than 30 years ago, and I couldn’t be more proud to be back and see how clinical trials are flourishing,” said Dr. Grubbs. “Everything we’ve done here is about service. So it’s rewarding to hear from a patient like Bill Parker and learn how his life has been improved. Ultimately what we are focused on is our patients’ care.”
Other OPACT/NCORP Accrual Awards were given to:
- Research Excellence for Top Affiliate Participation — Porselvi Chockalingam, M.D., who works in Hematology and Medical Oncology at the Beebe Medical Center in Lewes.
- Research Excellence for Surgical Oncology Participation – Diana Dickson-Witmer, M.D., FACS, medical director of the Christiana Care Breast Center and Breast Program at the Graham Cancer Center.
- Research Excellence for Top Radiation Oncologist: Treatment – Adam Raben, M.D., chair of Radiation Oncology at the Graham Cancer Center.
- Research Excellence for Top Radiation Oncologist: Cancer Control – Jon Strasser, M.D., medical director of Pediatric Radiation Oncology and program director for the Radiation Oncology Residency Program at the Graham Cancer Center.
- Research Excellence for Top Physician Pharmaceutical Clinical Trials – Charles J. Schneider, M.D., FACP, medical oncologist previously with Christiana Care, now with the University of Pennsylvania.
- Research Excellence for Top Physician Treatment – Dhaval R. Shah, M.D., physician specializing in Hematology and Medical Oncology at the Graham Cancer Center.
- Research Excellence for Top Physician Cancer Control – Jamal G. Misleh, M.D., physician specializing in Hematology and Medical Oncology at the Graham Cancer Center.