One of the most critical responsibilities for a National Cancer Institute–designated comprehensive cancer center like University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) is the mandate to make a difference in our region. Indeed, we view this imperative as an integral part of our four-part mission to reduce the burden of cancer through excellence in clinical care, research, education and community outreach. Such outreach can be achieved in many ways–reaching the whole spectrum of people from ordinary citizens to patients and their families to medical providers. The month of April brought two wonderful examples of how UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter keep community at the center of our activities.
One vital constituency in our region is the team of health care providers who make it possible to deliver exceptional care and access to clinical trials for patients across western Pennsylvania. Oncology practitioners are constantly striving to improve care in today's rapidly evolving environment of ever more personalized cancer medicine. For this reason, 22 Pitt faculty members from UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter came together April 18 under the leadership of Drs. Weijing Sun and Herbert Zeh to offer a one day review of timely issues in the diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal cancers. Together these cancers–colorectal, pancreatic, hepatobiliary and gastroesophageal–are the second most common cause of cancer mortality in the U.S., trailing only lung cancer. More than 125 providers spent the day learning about updates in local therapy, new molecular markers, and current targeted and cytotoxic therapies. This course followed the successful model of the breast cancer symposium organized by Drs. Barry Lembersky and Shannon Puhalla and held most recently on March 1 and the hematological malignancies symposium led by Dr. Mounzer Agha on November 2, 2012. These efforts are truly part of our goal to make sure that scientific advances move in a timely fashion from the lab to the clinic to the community.
Another special constituency is the ever increasing number of cancer survivors–about 14 million in the United States in 2013, and projected to grow to nearly 18 million by 2022! On April 26, UPCI hosted the 21st annual Celebration of Life event, a gathering of African American cancer survivors that began in a church basement and has evolved to a festive luncheon in the Herberman Conference Center. Organized by the indefatigable breast cancer survivor Bernice Austen-Smith, Betty Dowdy and Dr. Lyn Robertson from UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter, 150 survivors and family members came together to hear an inspirational keynote address from the Rev. Louis Brown and participate in a Chinese Auction to benefit Camp Raising Spirits, an annual retreat for adult cancer survivors. Among the luncheon guests were first-time participants whose lives have been newly touched by cancer as well as some who have attended all 21 events, surely a reason to celebrate the success of therapy and resilience of the individual to pursue a life beyond cancer.
Like the luncheon attendees, all of us at UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter embrace the theme of the event, “May you live as long as you want and never want as long as you live.” Events like this only increase our resolve to optimize cancer care across our region to sustain all cancer patients in their quest to become cancer survivors!