Friday Frontline: Civil Rights Icon John Lewis Dies at 80 from Pancreatic Cancer; Scammer Apprehended After Faking Cancer, and More

July 24, 2020

From the death of civil rights icon John Lewis to a woman pretending to have cancer as part of a larger donation scam, here’s what’s making the headlines in the cancer space this week.

Civil rights icon John Lewis, 80, died on July 17 after a month’s-long treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Lewis, who was the last surviving speaker from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, died on July 17 from his stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Lewis, who was also instrumental in organizing the March on Selma, Alabama in 1965, was elected to Congress in 1986 and became the second Black member from Georgia since the Reconstruction Era.

He was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in December 2019 and had vowed to keep fighting it. “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he said at the time of his diagnosis.

A former Major League Baseball and National Football League strength and conditioning coach, who is receiving treatment for stage 4 head and neck cancer, is suing multiple tobacco giants.

In the 1980s, Gus Hoefling used his martial arts background to help train several superstar athletes from the Philadelphia Eagles and Philadelphia Phillies. In fact, some credited Hoefling’s techniques in helping the Phillies win a World Series in 1980.

However, at the same time, players were often being recruited to promote smokeless chewing tobacco products that would later lead to addictions in some players.

At the time, the tobacco industry promoted that the products were safe while the surgeon general was issuing health warnings associated with the use of tobacco, according to reports collected by the Philadelphia Inquirer who interviewed Hoefling. His attorneys are suing the Altria Group, a parent company of cigarette and tobacco manufacturing company Phillip Morris International.

“Anybody can quit,” Hoefling says in his interview. “I want to win. Turn negative knowledge into positive. I believe in that yet.”

A molecular biologist who participated in important cancer research involving oncogenes and helped identify that HIV is a cause of AIDS has died at age 73.

Dr. Flossie Wong-Staal, who played a vital role in the understanding of AIDS and oncogenes, which are certain cancer-causing genes, has died.

Wong-Staal’s work involved studying the human retrovirus HTLV-1, which has been attributed to causing certain kinds of leukemia.

“HIV research built a strong foundation for COVID-19 research,” said David Ho, a Columbia University virologist, in an interview. “It (is) why things are moving so fast on the vaccine front and the antibody front, as well as the development of drugs.”

Kellie Walker, now 28, is in police custody after scamming dozens of people into donating money to what turned out to be a fake cancer diagnosis

According to the Mariposa County Sherriff’s Office, Walker began faking her stage 2 ovarian cancer diagnosis six years ago and had friends and family set up funds for her. A bank account was created to help her and her family deal with the medical expenses, and a charity dinner was held in her honor that had up to 200 people attend. A GoFundMe account was also created online.

The sheriff’s office said Walker managed to raise $10,000 for her fake treatments and scammed over 60 donors. Over the years, Walker would send emails to her donors thanking them for their contributions and had family and friends drop her off at medical appointments. One of the donor’s alerted the sheriff’s office to the potential scam after they found out Walker was pregnant.

Walker is currently in custody and awaiting trial.


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