Friday Frontline: Cancer Updates, Research and Education on March 20, 2020


From the Food and Drug Administration’s new clinical trial guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic to a mother meeting the cancer survivor who received her son’s heart 20 years after his passing, here’s what is making headlines in the cancer space this week.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued official guidance for industry, investigators and any institutions conducting clinical trials during the COVID-19 pandemic that are facing challenges like quarantines, travel restrictions, site closures and even self-isolation of researchers or trial participants that contract the virus.

The guidance calls for alternative methods of contacting participants, as well as factoring in these challenges among their analyses. Moreover, the FDA is recommending that each trial discuss with their appropriate review boards modifying the collection of outcomes and documenting why the endpoints were not collected if they could not reach them. The agency also advised making sure researchers statistically accounted for these changes and work with their review boards to adjust their data.

One breast cancer survivor is helping single adults in her community with the disease stay healthy by delivering food to them through her nonprofit, “Tickled Pink.

Erica Jones started her program after her own experience of living alone with breast cancer. She connected online with other patients who also had difficulty with healthy eating while undergoing treatment. For those that receive her meals, not only is it an avenue to stay healthy, but it’s also one that gives them a sense of caring.

"It was just trying sometimes, because I either didn't have the energy or I just didn't eat the right things," Jones said in an interview. Most of the meals are served in the Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill areas in North Carolina where patients can go online and choose their meals from a variety of healthy and vegan options. Jones hopes to expand her program across the state.

For over 20 years Laurianna Sargent has been fighting fires with the Albuquerque Fire Rescue company and is now fighting breast cancer, but without her worker’s comp.

Sargent’s medical costs are covered by her insurance, but due to age restrictions for specific cancers in the New Mexico Presumptive Cause Bill, Sargent she is not receiving her worker’s compensation.

“Mine was not covered, because I was not diagnosed before the age of 40,” explained Sargent in an interview. Typically, most women do not get sent for a mammogram to detect breast cancer until the age of 40. Her fellow firefighters and family have set up a GoFundMe campaign to help her with expenses during treatment, and a representative from the Albuquerque Fire Rescue is working with lawmakers to change legislation and protect people like Sargent.

At St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital, one oncology nurse looks to brighten his patient’s day through dance, so much so, he was featured in a commercial for the hospital.

“It's kind of funny because I think they thought it was an actor, I'm not an actor,” Joe Ronquillo, or Nurse Joe as he’s known in the hospital, said in an interview. He dances to cheer up his patients and has them join in on the fun. Some of these videos have gone viral, and Nurse Joe is well known by all the pediatric patients at his institution.

Ronquillo is a first-generation American, and his entire family works in the hospital. He just finished nurse practitioner’s school and he is inspired by his young patients to move forward and follow his own dreams.

“The greatest joy for me is me dancing for them here at the hospital. It's not just treating the disease it's treating the entire patient, so I think those are the moments that I cherish the most.”

Elisabeth Tilly had the chance to meet 25-year-old Jon Hochstein and listen to his heart — the same heart that once beat in her son Christopher’s chest. The heart that saved Hochstein years ago.

Tilly’s son, Christopher, died at age 8 over 20 years ago in an accident while walking to school. A few doors down from Christopher, 4-year-old Hochstein was in critical condition due to his own heart enlarging. At first, Tilly did not want to donate, but decided otherwise when she saw Christopher in critical condition.

After that day, Christopher nearly died again from Hodgkin’s lymphoma after the drugs he was on to keep his immune system from attacking his donated heart left him vulnerable to cancer. But Hochstein survived and went on to become a healthy Harvard Medical student and hopes to become a doctor someday.

“There’s this massive special connection,” Hochstein said after getting the chance to finally connect with Tilly. “She had to make this crazy decision amidst this tragedy in her life to let someone else use her son’s heart and other organs. I was really grateful that she got to listen to Christopher’s heart in my chest. That was really powerful.”

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Dr. Lauren Pinter-Brown