When Rose Murphy was diagnosed with stage three pancreatic cancer, she knew she was going to need the right doctor, the right drugs and just a bit of luck. As her diagnosis sunk in, Murphy realized that what she also needed was some hope. Eleven years ago, Murphy hopped on the Internet, in a desperate search for someone who could give her hope.
“I got on the web. I wanted to find someone who had had pancreatic cancer and was alive,” says Murphy, a proud survivor and founder and chair of the local nonprofit organization Cure Cancer. “I found one person, and she gave me hope; she gave me the hope I could live just one more day.”
At Cure Cancer’s inaugural fundraiser — called Let’s Cure Cancer — at Country Club of Naples, benefitting the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Murphy appealed to the crowd, saying, “And that’s what this is all about tonight. You, by your participation, are giving hope.”
Cure Cancer has thrown charity events in the past, but this is the first time Murphy’s organization has fundraised for Massachusetts General Hospital. It is not, however, the first experience Murphy has had with Mass General.
“Eleven years ago a care team headed by surgeon Dr. Carlos Fernandez saved my life at Mass General,” said Murphy, who attributes her triumph over cancer to her team of doctors. “Mass General is one of the most amazing research institutions in the nation, probably even in the world. Their groundbreaking research on a circulating tumor cell chip (CTC) is what we’re supporting tonight,” she told the crowd.
With that, Murphy introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, Dr. Daniel A. Haber. The director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Cancer Center, Haber and his team are knee-deep in research on the CTC chip. Essentially a way to capture tumor cells circulating in a patient’s blood, this device could forever alter how doctors across the globe treat and detect cancer.
“At Mass General we’ve made a big push towards personalized medicine,” said Haber. “We know that we’re not just treating a tumor, we’re treating a person with cancer. But we also know that the tumor is personal. Every tumor has its own DNA and abnormalities. The key is to figure out what that tumor’s abnormality or vulnerability is.”
This is where the CTC chip comes in. Researchers know that tumor cells travel in the bloodstream — which is, in essence, how cancer spreads. The trouble is that tumor cells in the blood can be difficult to find. The hope is that the CTC chip will soon be able to reliably capture these tumor cells from a simple blood sample, enabling doctors to easily and noninvasively study a tumor through the entire treatment process — without having to take biopsies of the tumor every few weeks.
Haber stressed that research of this kind can really only happen at places like Mass General, where engineers mix freely with clinicians. “Some engineers were working on a project to try and find fetal cells in the blood stream, and they said to us, ‘It sure is hard to find these fetal cells, it’s a lot easier to find cancer cells,’ and that’s how this was born.”
But Haber emphasized that this key research can’t and won’t continue without the help of organizations like Cure Cancer. “The microscopes we use cost $400,000 each. Philanthropy is incredibly important when you’re working with this kind of technology.“
The 2012 Let’s Cure Cancer dinner certainly planned to do its part. Sunday’s event, which featured Haber’s talk, a live auction and a lecture by famed sports psychologist Bob Rotella, was actually just half of the weekend’s fundraising festivities. Many of those in attendance on Sunday had also chipped in at a golf tournament the previous day. From both the golf game and the dinner, Murphy hoped to net around $40,000 for Haber’s project.
And she hopes to keep the relationship with Massachusetts General Hospital going next year.
“Some people have said to me, why Mass General? Why not someone local? But the thing is, the research they’re doing is going to effect people here locally. This will effect cancer patients everywhere,” said Murphy, adding, “I hope we can do this again next year and raise twice as much money for them.”