CURE® Honors Oncologists, Patient Advocate in Lung Cancer Heroes® Award Program for Impact on Community


CURE®’s Lung Cancer Heroes® Award Program celebrates and thanks the heroes who make a difference in the lives of patients with lung cancer.

Two physicians and a cancer survivor-turned-advocate were honored during CURE®’s Lung Cancer Heroes® awards program, which honors people who have made contributions in the field of lung cancer.

In particular, CURE Media Group recognized Dr. Hossein Borghaei; Heidi L. Nafman-Onda; and Dr. Kenneth Rosenzweig, all of whom were nominated by their peers for the second annual Lung Cancer Heroes® award ceremony, which was sponsored by Takeda Oncology. The three awards were given on Oct. 28, during a virtual celebration held in conjunction with the fourth biennial International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) Small Cell Lung Cancer Meeting.

Essays were submitted by colleagues, patients and family members that identified Borghaei, Nafman-Onda and Rosenzweig and nearly 30 other Lung Cancer Heroes® nominees, all detailing noble acts of patients, physicians, caregivers and others involved in the lung cancer community. Some examples detailed in the nominating essays include a daughter caring for her mother with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer, researchers conducting studies to expand the knowledge base for this disease and patients who used their experience to be powerful advocates for the community.

“There's hope in survivorship, as science rapidly advances and improves care and treatment,” said Kristie L. Kahl, vice president of content at MJH Life Sciences, parent company of CURE®, during the ceremony. “Lung cancer affects a wide range of people. The bottom line is anyone with lungs can get lung cancer. Together as one community we can raise awareness of lung cancer and most importantly, recognize and celebrate the esteemed individuals contributing to improving the lives of lung cancer patients.”

‘The Urgency Around Awareness’

The keynote speaker for the event was Laura Dern, Academy Award, Emmy and Golden Globe Winner, who played Cheryl Strayed’s mother who died from cancer in the film “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” where she portrayed Strayed’s mother who died from cancer, among many other poignant films and roles. Dern felt deeply connected to the character she played in “Wild” because it was similar to what she experienced with her grandfather’s lung cancer journey when she was 6 years old.

“On a medical level, since we have amazing heroes to celebrate today, the thing that I really took away was how terrifying it was to not know, to not have answers, to even be guided towards tests far too late, to not have ease in culture around physical, mental (and) emotional health,” Dern said. “That was very palpable to me at a young age that I saw how things that were scary were not spoken about. I think we've all seen through these last couple of generations how profoundly shifted our culture has been to have real conversations and the urgency around awareness.”

While Dern discussed her personal experience with cancer and how it motivated her to become an advocate, she also highlighted how everyone can be a hero in one degree or another.

“Everyone is in the wings wanting to make a difference to a loved one to a friend and, thank God, to a stranger,” Dern said. “And with awareness of what's at stake, what the statistics are and how we can make a difference becomes the impetus for becoming a hero to another, as everyone who's part of this event knows. I think so many of us sit isolated in our own homes wondering how we can make a difference, feeling the impact, watching the news alone, we're all wondering how our voice can matter. And what's incredible about your work and about advocacy in general, is it's also guiding the heroes who wait to know how they can make the difference.”

The American Dream

One of the three Lung Cancer Heroes recognized at the awards ceremony was Dr. Hossein (Hoss) Borghaei, chief of the Division of Thoracic Medical Oncology, professor in the Department of Hematology/Oncology and co-director of the Immune Monitoring Facility at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. As a teenager, he came to the United States as a political refugee from Iran and supported himself through college then medical school. He has led numerous clinical trials, contributed to his institution, advocated for the lung cancer community and devoted his time to each and every patient he sees.

Borghaei was nominated by his colleague, Dr. Martin J. Edelman, chair of the Department of Hematology/Oncology and deputy cancer center director for clinical research at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Edelman describes how Borghaei was a leader in advancing the field of immunotherapy in lung cancer treatment, especially as it made a return to solid tumor oncology.

“Hoss was a leader in that, both understanding the science as well as bringing (it) into the clinic and being a leader in that area,” Edelman said during the ceremony. “And while doing all that, (he was) seeing a variety of patients here, overseeing large clinics, playing a very active role in the cancer center on some of the thankless committees …, where you do a lot of work on behalf of the institution, not always for personal reward. All during this, (he’s) always having a great sense of humor.”

Borghaei commented that recognition, such as the Lung Cancer Heroes® award, confirms the work that he has done in the lung cancer community.

“I don't think you get into this business thinking that people are going to recognize you for this and that; you become a physician to help people,” Borghaei said. “And of course, it's always nice to be able to be recognized as someone who's done something, and I think Dr. Edelman’s comments makes me feel that what I have done so far has been noticed and has made a difference. And hopefully, the progress that we've made in the world of lung cancer in the past decade or so will continue with supportive people like Dr. Edelman.”

Facilitating Change

CURE Media Group also recognized Heidi L. Nafman-Onda, a lung cancer survivor and founder of The White Ribbon Project. This organization was a product of Nafman-Onda’s frustration with the lack of attention paid towards the lung cancer community. This started with her husband making a ribbon from plywood that says, “Lung Cancer Awareness,” for their front yard and has grown to a movement of thousands of white ribbons that have been made and shipped throughout the United States, Canada, the Philippines and the European Union.

Nafman-Onda was nominated by Michelle Hills, who was diagnosed with stage 4, ALK-positive lung cancer. She met Nafman-Onda through a LUNGevity Foundation virtual Zoom meetup during the COVID-19 pandemic, where she was hoping to meet somebody who was like her: no history of smoking and a competitive athlete.

“The determination that Heidi had to facilitate that change (to increase lung cancer awareness) was really remarkable,” Hills said during the awards ceremony. “Heidi struck me as one of those really talented people. I thought, if there's anyone here who can facilitate this change, she is a one-woman powerhouse that was looking to take down the cancer center. And I thought, “If I had to make a bet, I'm going to put my odds on Heidi because I really think that she can impact change.’”

Even with the strong determination to increase awareness, Nafman-Onda is still overwhelmed by how The White Ribbon Project has taken off.

“I was angry and hurt by the lack of planning and by being ignored as not only myself, but you were too trying to reach your cancer center,” Nafman-Onda said at the ceremony. “And the more people we talked to on the LUNGevity support groups, we were all feeling the same way, getting the same type of treatment and it was just so hurtful. And for me, it was a knee-jerk reaction that day to scream to (my husband,) Pierre, ‘Please make me a white ribbon,’ so I could just scream from our front door that I have lung cancer. I'm not ashamed of having lung cancer. No one should be ashamed of having lung cancer. No one should be ashamed of having any cancer, and why should this cancer then not be embraced?”

Applying Life Lessons to Clinical Work

Another Lung Cancer Hero® honored at the award ceremony was Dr. Kenneth Rosenzweig, professor and system chair of radiation oncology at Mount Sinai Health System in New York. Rosenzweig has conducted research in lung cancer and mesothelioma, taught other physicians how to treat lung cancer, improved patient care and volunteers for several lung cancer organizations. Although he does not speak about it often, he also has a personal connection to lung cancer, as his father was diagnosed with and later died from metastatic lung cancer when he started specializing in the treatment of lung cancers and other thoracic cancers in his career.

“I think that was an important learning experience for me, as painful and as excruciating as it was at the time to see firsthand what a patient goes through when they’re getting chemotherapy and radiation,” Rosenzweig said during the ceremony. “I've tried to bring that to my clinical career and clinical practice, the research and just even the way we set up the department. I don't speak about that a lot, but to hear (my nominators) say these kind words makes me feel that I'm honoring my father's legacy and makes it even more poignant for me to have gotten this award.”

Rosenzweig was nominated by several of his peers: Dr. Fred R. Hirsch, executive director at the Center for Thoracic Oncology in The Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai and the Joe Lowe and Louis Price Professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York; Dr. Ramon Parsons, director of The Tisch Cancer Institute; and Dr. Matthew Galsky, professor of medicine and director of genitourinary medical oncology at The Tisch Cancer Institute.

“I would thank you actually for all your support for the building of (the) thoracic oncology team at the Tisch Center Institute at Mount Sinai,” said Hirsch, who was one of the2020 Lung Cancer Heroes® recognized at last year’s award ceremony. “You have been a cornerstone in this development and still is a cornerstone in the development to build up a multidisciplinary culture around thoracic oncology, collaborative research and educational aspects. I would like to congratulate you, and we are very proud of you.”

Another nominator highlighted the efforts Rosenzweig makes to aid in patient care.

“You're really an incredible colleague, (you) always answer the phone to talk about patients (and) really put patients first,” Galsky said. “And that's on top of all the things that you do to advance the field. Congratulations on this award, really richly deserved, thanks for everything that you do for our patients.”

Parsons, the third nominator, also recognized the innovative thoughts it took to achieve what Rosenzweig has done throughout his career.

“Since I've been (at Mount Sinai) for eight years, you've been a great colleague,” Parsons said. “I got to watch you build and continue to build a really terrific department of radiation oncology. Building out the research and the clinical side of this across a very large health system requires a lot of dedication, patience and also creativity, and I've seen all of that with you.”

Erik Lohrmann, vice president of CURE Media Group, thanked the heroes honored at this event.

“Whether through research and development, patient advocacy or patient care, you’ve each uniquely contributed to improving the lives of lung cancer patients,” he said. “Your accomplishments and tireless devotion exemplify what our Heroes® award represents.”

Fatima Scipione, head of oncology patient advocacy and engagement at Takeda Oncology, also acknowledged the accomplishments made by the heroes at this event and beyond.

“Thank you to the Lung Cancer Heroes®, who are being recognized today, for your outstanding commitment and continuous dedication to this community, and for the difference you're making to improve the lives of others,” Scipione said. “Each of you saw a need within the lung cancer community and used your own skills, your expertise, your time, your resources, your passion and your purpose to better the lives of people living with lung cancer and truly exemplify what it means to be a hero and a champion for others.”

CURE is now accepting nominations for the 2022 Lung Cancer Heroes Award.

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