(Note: I mistakenly left this out of last week's MSUToday Weekly Update email, so I'm running it this week along with another editor's note. The topic is too important not to share.)
Aug. 1, 2018
I remember the call like it was yesterday. I was far away from home and not at all expecting to be hearing the words, “Mom has breast cancer.” My mind completely stopped for a moment, and then a flood of thoughts came rushing in. “What does that mean? How bad is it? How can I afford to fly home? Will I see her again? What’s the treatment? Will she die?”
I’m not sure I actually asked any of those questions out loud, because while I distinctly remember getting the call and hearing those words, I can’t for the life of me remember anything after that. Shock, fear and sadness have a way of doing that to your mind. Well, I do remember there were tears.
Luckily, for our family, we got more than two decades with my mom after her diagnosis. Thanks to modern medicine we were granted many more years of memory-making with my remarkable, kind, generous and loving mother. She saw her children marry and have their own children. She watched her grandkids grow from babies into teenagers. She traveled, camped, celebrated, cooked, worked, loved and lived. There were a lot of treasured moments crammed into those years. There were some tough ones too, but my mother handled them all with grace and toughness. I’m eternally grateful my daughter was able to grow up knowing her grandma, who loved her with abandon.
I don’t know who discovered the treatments my mom received. Heck, I don’t even really know what they were. What I do know is thanks to some researcher (or more likely a lot of researchers) my mom was a survivor. Though her path was anything but easy, I know she recognized the true gift she was given – more time to live. Through the discoveries made by strangers, we all benefitted from that gift.
Working at MSU, knowing researchers who work every day looking for cures to many diseases, is so meaningful to me. How many moms will they give more years to? How many children will they cure? How many lives will they save? It’s pretty powerful stuff. Some days, it’s what keeps me going – knowing that this place, and the research that happens here, is literally saving lives. Not only that, but we’re teaching tomorrow’s researchers and problem-solvers. On the darkest days of this past year, knowing that we have lots of things to fix, I always remembered that there are people who need us to be here to discover ways to give them more time.
One of the most powerful cancer treatments of all was discovered by Spartans in 1965. The use of cisplatin to fight cancer was the incredible finding of the late biophysicist Barnett Rosenberg and his research partner, Loretta Van Camp. Its cure rate of more than 90 percent for testicular cancer and use for ovarian, bladder, lung and stomach cancers is truly inspiring. Through the work of two determined MSU scientists, countless people have been given more time to live.
This week, MSU is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of cisplatin. To learn more about this incredible treatment discovery, read the MSUTODAY FEATURE: Discovering the gold standard of cancer drugs.
Undergraduate Brendyn Smith is well on his way to being a life-saving scientist. A biochemistry and molecular biology senior and a Dean’s Research Scholar, he’s already been doing research on chronic diseases, environmental preservation and antibiotic resistance. Who knows? He may be the next Spartan to make a historical world-changing discovery. Check out his STUDENT VIEW: Back to nature, to learn more about his work and even his favorite food.
As with all medical advances and treatment, it’s not only the science that must be considered. Leonard Fleck, a professor of philosophy and a faculty member in MSU’s Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences, is among the foremost experts on the ethical dimensions of American health care. Check out his FACULTY VOICE: Bioethics and an exercise in civic engagement, to learn why he says that “respectful conversation” is key to examining bioethics.
In addition to my mom being the recipient of life-saving treatment, so have I. As I’ve written before, the discoveries regarding heart-rhythm disorders and the use of pacemakers and defibrillators saved my life at least on one distinct occasion. Without them, I wouldn’t have had the last four years I’ve enjoyed. While a bit of a sobering thought, I’m mostly just grateful. Where would some of us be without the steadfast determination of researchers to find cures and develop treatments? Most people have no idea just how important research universities are to the quest to beat disease.
Here at MSU, we’re not sitting on our cisplatin laurels. Every day Spartans are hard at work studying neuroblastoma, melanoma, breast and lung cancer, Parkinson’s, diabetes, epilepsy, cystic fibrosis, numerous rare diseases like Kennedy’s, Tuberous sclerosis complex, GNAO1 disorders and so many more. Spartans simply will not rest until they figure out how to treat more diseases, save more lives and grant people more time. #SpartansWill.
Photo by Derrick L. Turner