Friday Frontline: Marine Veteran Has Walked More Than 8,000 Miles to Raise Cancer Awareness and Funds for Strangers Treatments, Researchers Use Cancer Cells From Osteosarcoma Donor for Treatment Breakthrough, And More

From a Marine veteran walking 8,500 miles over the last 24 years to raise cancer awareness and funds for treatment to researchers using cancer cells from a deceased osteosarcoma donor to help advance treatment, here’s what’s happening in the cancer landscape this week.

Over the last 20 years, one Marine veteran has walked more than 8,000 miles to raise cancer awareness and funds for various people with cancer.

Marine veteran Jim Hickey set out on his first trek 24 years ago to highlight how much cancer care costs in the United States after his father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Although his father died from the disease, he continued to walk when his brother was also diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Since then, he has continued to walk, traveling 8,500 miles, for patients with cancer to raise funds and awareness of GoFundMe pages set up for them. Recently, Hickey heard of Justin Smithey’s story online after Smithey was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Smithey has had to travel to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida from his home in Colorado to receive treatment.

“I know that if there’s someone out there and I have the ability to raise awareness by going out there and walking for them, by not doing it I feel like I’m being selfish," Hickey said in an interview.

Lydia Ulrich, 14, was recently diagnosed with leukemia shortly after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

Ulrich’s parents had her promptly tested for COVID-19 after the 14-year-old was complaining of significant pain. The test result came back positive, however the pain continued, and Ulrich was taken to the emergency room. Additional tests confirm she had leukemia.

As her parents stayed by her bedside, doctors immediately crafted a treatment plan and had her begin receiving chemotherapy. But residents in Ulrich’s hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, began to raise funds for the family by shopping at a local store where all proceeds from purchases of soft drinks would go the family. The line to get into the store for the fundraiser wrapped around the block, with multiple people expressing their happiness to help out a child with cancer.

“I really appreciate all of it so much,” Ulrich said in an interview after hearing about the fundraiser and that a GoFundMe was set up for her treatment. “I never thought that I would have this kind of support throughout the whole thing.”

As several nonprofit cancer organizations have received less donations because of COVID-19, one Minnesota-based company threw their hat into the ring to help.

Storm Creek, an apparel company based in Eagan, Minnesota, began crafting special knit hats to mark the American Cancer Society’s mission after hearing about the organization’s struggles from volunteer, and breast cancer survivor, Kim Disch. The “Live For Better” hat has a multicolor ribbon on it to represent that ACS’ mission of helping patients with all types of cancers and all profits go toward the ACS.

"People like to shop local, and keep the money in their own communities, so I think it's really neat that Storm Creek is doing this and giving back so much to ACS to help their mission and their fight,” said Disch in an interview. The hats are still on sale.

Tyler Trent’s legacy of raising pediatric cancer awareness lives on as his doctors use his donated cancer cells to help advance treatment.

Trent was diagnosed with a rare form of osteosarcoma in his arm at the age of 15. After two years of successful treatments, he developed a recurrence in his pelvis. Even as his prognosis worsened, Trent used his story to raise pediatric cancer and surgery awareness. In 2019, Trent died from his disease at the age of 20. At the time, Trent was a student at his all-time favorite school, Purdue University. There is now a scholarship in his name at the university.

Now, some of Trent’s treatment team, which head up the Riley Children’s Hospital Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders and the Pediatric Precision Genomics Program, are looking to push the field of pediatric cancer further. Currently, researchers have been able to use Trent’s TT2 cancer cells to find a combination of drugs that significantly slows tumor growth.

“He was busily answering texts, tweets and managing Facebook to fulfill his last mission: to raise awareness for pediatric cancer research.” Dr. Karen E. Pollok said in an interview discussing the breakthrough with Trent’s cells. “Our lab-quote when we discuss the research using Tyler’s cells is, ‘We will never give up!’”

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