"Believe in a Cure"
The third annual International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma, held
by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF), was held in Chicago,
Illinois this October 20 - 21, 2006. MARF is a national organization dedicated
to eradicating mesothelioma as a life ending disease through funding research,
helping patients obtain the best medical treatment, and advocacy. This
three tier approach was mirrored in the presentations of this year's
symposium, with the overarching theme, "Believe in a Cure."
The past two international symposiums have been held in Las Vegas, Nevada,
but this year's Chicago venue was chosen as a midway ground for travelers
from both coasts. The symposium was housed in the Sheraton Hotel and Towers
where many attendees stayed as well. Also at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers,
the International Mesothelioma Interest Group (IMIG) held their biannual
international conference. The IMIG conference focused on medical research
done around the world and new medical treatment options, as well.
Roger G. Worthington, P.C. was a co-sponsor contributor to both the MARF
conference and the IMIG conference.
Friday, October 20, 2006
During the quick breakfast that began at 7:30 a.m., we saw many new faces
and were able to catch up with old friends. But thirty minutes of mingling
was over quickly and time for the morning panel which focused on mesothelioma
from a world-wide perspective. Dr. Michael Harbut gave his summary on
asbestos exposure in the U.S. Dr. Harbut is a member of the MARF Board
of Directors. Following Dr. Harbut was Dr. Nick de Klerk of Australia,
speaking about the Wittenboom crisis, and Dr. Rabab Gafaar who discussed
the effects of asbestos use in Egypt and nearby developing countries.
At approximately 9:00 a.m., the second panel began, moderated byDr. Harvey
Pass, Chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery and Thoracic Oncology
at the New York University School of Medicine and Comprehensive Cancer
Center. Dr. Pass is also the Chairman of the Science Advisory Board of MARF.
Dr. Pass offered his own thoughts between each of the presentations, including
Dr. Bruce Robinson's intriguing speech on Meso Biomarkers(that is
how to better detect and diagnosis meso). Dr. Robinson was followed by
several summaries from researchers who have received funding from MARF,
including more information about Libby, Montana, novel biomarkers, and
DNA screening. Dr. Sam Hammar also gave a short presentation on pathology
followed by Dr. Raja Flores who prepared an excellent summary on the uses
of radiological imaging.
The third panel began around 10:30 a.m. and focused on some of the foundational
biology of mesothelioma with presentations by Drs. Brooke Mossman and
Michele Carbone. They were followed by more summaries of MARF-funded research
on epigenetic changes, critical cellular signalers found with mesothelioma,
and new pharmacological targets for meso.
At noon, Drs. Helen Clayson and Mary Hesdorffer presented their research
on pain, symptom, and side effect management while everyone enjoyed lunch.
Many caregivers found this information quite useful.
At close to 12:30, an exciting presentation on multi-modality management
of peritoneal mesothelioma was delivered by a stellar group of doctors:
Dr. Robert Taub (oncologist at ColumbiaPresbyterian Medical Center in
New York and member of the Science Advisory Board of MARF), Dr. David
Chabot, Dr. Raffit Hassan of the National Cancer Institute and member
of MARF, and Dr. Paul Sugarbaker, oncologist at the Washington Cancer
Institute in Washington D.C.
Later that afternoon, Dr. Pass and Dr. Flores spoke about thesurgical treatments
for pleural mesothelioma. Dr. Flores is a thoracic surgeon at Memorial
Sloan-Kettering Center in New York. Their presentation was followed by
a series regarding standard first-line therapies by Dr. Jeremy Steele.
More summaries on MARF-funded research began around 3:30 p.m. including
information on Pemetrexed (ALIMTA) and Thalidomide, a drug that prevents
blood vessels from growing.
Every year during the symposium, time is taken to remember those who have
passed away from mesothelioma. Friday afternoon's "Tribute to
Our Heroes: Ceremony of Remembrance for Loved Ones Lost to Mesothelioma,"
was a time for reflection for all present. Many wrote special messages
on small rocks provided by MARF and then placed these messages in the
rock garden just below the wall of remembrance.
Later that night, loved ones were again remembered and many stories were
shared over dinner. Terry Lynch, who is the Vice President at Large, Legislative
Director and Health and Safety Director for the International Association
of Heat & Frost Insulators & Asbestos Workers and serves as a
Director of the Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (PACHLAB), along
with Brian Glen, the Business Manager for Local 17, shared their own personal
stories of loss and stories from their union members diagnosed with mesothelioma.
They gave special recognition and thanks to people and organizations that
continue to make a difference for mesothelioma patients, including MARF,
PACHLAB, Roger G. Worthington, and Dr. Robert Cameron (Chief of Thoracic
Surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in Los Angeles,
Meso patients stood up in the dinner crowd introducing themselves to the
audience and briefly sharing their experience with mesothelioma. Sadly,
some were present because of a recent diagnosis just weeks before, but
many shared stories of success, of being cancer free, and of finding good doctors.
Around 8:00 p.m., near the end of the dinner, Sue Vento, wife of late Congressman
Bruce Vento and member of the MARF Board of Directors, presented the Bruce
Vento Hope Builder Award to Jeffrey Cooper of SimmonsCooper, LLC. Sue
Vento's message focused on words that Bruce often said to her, "Be
good, and you'll be beautiful." Bruce was referring to how beautiful
someone is when they perform good deeds for others.
Humbly accepting the award, Jeffrey Cooper reminded the audience that good
deeds are often accomplished by more than one person. He gave thanks to
the "doctors and to Roger Worthington for caring about research when
no one else did and caring for what happened outside of a lawsuit."
He thanked MARF and the mesothelioma community itself which "gives
us all hope everyday."
But the icing on the cake was a performance by Jordan Zevon and his friend
Jordan Summers. Zevon is the son of rock and roll musician Warren Zevon
who passed away from mesothelioma in 2003. The duo captured the attention
of the entire audience through their performance of their new song
My Heart is Your Home, Joke's on Me, and not to mention, Warren Zevon's hit,
Werewolves of London. The entire audience clapped, sang, and howled along with "the Jordans."
Saturday, October 21
Saturday morning came quickly as many more presentations were scheduled.
After another wonderful breakfast, the symposium rocked forward with a
panel about future targets which Dr. Nicholas Vogelzang, member of MARF's
Board of Directors and thoracic oncologist at the Nevada Cancer Institute
in Las Vegas, Nevada, moderated. Dr. Daniel Sterman began with a soup
to nuts assessment of clinical trials, followed by Dr. Sunil Sharma's
presentation on inhibitors. Dr. Steven Albelda spoke about the latest
developments in gene therapy, Dr. Richard Kornbluth spoke on immunotherapy
treatments, and then summaries on MARF-funded research ondendritic cell-based
immunotherapy and angio-immuno agents was given. (
Around 10:00 a.m. Dr. Hedy Kindler, co-chair of IMIG and Director of the
Mesothelioma Program at the University of Chicago inChicago, Illinois,
spoke on novel targeted therapies. A series of highly technical medical
research funded by MARF followed. Because presentations had exceeded their
time limit, the scheduled roundtable scientific discussion and summary
between Dr. Nicholas Vogelzang and Dr. Raja Flores was cancelled and the
program moved straight into lunch.
Many of the attendees were looking forward to lunch when keynote speaker,
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) addressed a combined crowd of both MARF and
IMIG (International Mesothelioma Interest Group) attendees, prior to that
the two organizations had been following their separate agendas. Senator
Durbin's speech reflected on the need to make mesothelioma a natural
interest. Senator Durbin was a friend of Bruce Vento's and recalled
the way Bruce passionately sought to combat mesothelioma through raising
awareness, bringing information to patients, doctors, and the government.
Senator Durbin then acknowledged many others who are working to raise
awareness, including Jeffrey Cooper and Dr. Brad Black, author of
An Air That Kills: How the Asbestos Poisoning of
Libby, Montana, Uncovered a National Scandal.
Durbin went on to discuss what more needs to be done than just raising
awareness, that action needs to be taken. He hopes to ensure proper funds
from the NIH (National Institute of Health) are allocated for mesothelioma
research appropriately. To do this Durbin mentioned that it will take
a joint effort, "curing mesothelioma should not be a bipartisan issue,"
and he is working with other senators to ban asbestos use. Senator Durbin
illustrated how asbestos use hurts more than those who work directly with
it. He referred to the ten workers who were recently exposed to asbestos
while attempting to dispose of it properly in the tunnels that run under
the nation's capitol building in Washington, D.C. Durbin hopes to
see an end to asbestos exposure and requested that patients and families
continue advocating. He said that it will take real life stories to make
a difference, to get the government's attention, and he urged the
audience to continue pursuing this avenue.
Later, Senator Durbin fielded questions from the audience and listened
to many people's personal struggle with mesothelioma.
After lunch, attendees broke into small groups for a time of empowerment
through personal sharing. The caregiver's small group encouraged each
other to not be afraid of asking for help and taking time for themselves
without feeling guilty. But they also provided more than words of encouragement
to each other, many offered helpful information and valuable resources
to others unaware of how to seek help.
While the patients themselves certainly had sorrowful stories to share,
more expressed words of enlightenment, helpfulness, support, and positive
attitudes about the future.
Those coping with the loss of a loved one found strength and support with
others' stories. Many learned that it was ok to grieve, to be sad,
to be angry, and to look forward without forgetting the past.
Chris Hahn, Executive Director of MARF, gave the final presentation on
advocacy and activism around 3:30 Saturday afternoon. He reported on how
MARF and many of its affiliates were currently raising awareness of mesothelioma
through advocacy and offered several suggestions to those at the symposium
of how to get involved in their local community. He ended with a message
of hope, hope that mesothelioma will start to receive proper funding and
attention and hope that new medical treatment options will soon be available.
On Saturday evening a reception cruise launched from the hotel to tour
downtown Chicago. Even though it was chilly outside, everyone kept warm
mingling with each other over a buffet style dinner and open bar. The
double-decker cruise boat had an open air deck but a warm and cozy lower
level where most of the merriment took place. Less than an hour into the
ride, everyone had crammed downstairs to sing along with the two guitarist
playing Motown hits. In small available pockets of space, some people
were able to dance, and everyone had a great time. Coincidentally, the
final song played was
Werewolves in London, which Jordan Zevon sang again to all those onboard
Even though the cruise boat docked at 9:00 p.m. and the symposium itself
had officially ended, many people stayed to talk to each other for several
more hours. A flourish of phone numbers and other contact information
was exchanged between new friends, and old friends hugged each other tightly
before saying goodbye. But everyone left with a better sense of hope and
belief in the research being done on mesothelioma, the advocacy taken
around the world, and the community being built by mesothelioma patients
and their loved ones. While part of the purpose of the symposium is education,
another is building relationships. Everyone walked away with this, giving
them hope, allowing them to "Believe in a Cure."