All on board for the Moon Shots Program

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Moon_Shots_Program_Val_DePinho.jpgBy Val Marshall

Val Marshall's cancer journey began in May 2009, when her son Addison was diagnosed acute lymphocytic leukemia. A visit to the family doctor for what they thought was a simple high school football injury turned out to be much more.

Inspired by her son's strength and hope, Val strives to be a voice that connects other parents on this journey. Her series shares insight into her life as a mom of a typical teenager who just happens to be fighting leukemia.

Addison Marshall crush cancer

Friday, Sept. 21, was a special day, as I was invited to two very different events.

MD Anderson hosted a press conference highlighting the new Moon Shots Program, boldly defining the next frontier of cancer research. Eight diseases (lung, melanoma, breast/ovarian, prostate and several blood cancers) have been sniper-targeted for eradication in the coming decade.

True to form, MD Anderson invited family and caregivers to meet with MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho, M.D., before the press conference and be awarded assigned seats. I'm not sure if I would be impressed meeting Lady Gaga, but I was gaga over meeting Dr. D.

He isn't from Texas but his cowboy lassoing skills are coming in handy in the wild west of the cancer frontier.

Most precious resource
Even though it always hurts to see childhood cancer at the bottom of any guest list, I can appreciate the law of numbers applied to our most precious of resources, research dollars.

I sat teary-eyed as DePinho bravely announced with conviction the targeted diseases that are in the viewfinder of today's scope.

There are 350,000 childhood and young adult cancer survivors at heightened risk for secondary cancers such as these. While 78% of all cancers are diagnosed in people older than 55, it smarts as a cancer mom to know that many advances have helped my peer group and not our babies.

I guess I will die with that PTA momma bear mentality!

You have to respect a man like DePinho, who isn't afraid to "dethrone the emperor of maladies," as he exclaimed. I will forever remember this day as a watershed moment in the renewed battle of this insidious disease.

One home run in research can cause a trickle-down in aiding other diseases. I was proud that I didn't embarrass the nicely starched researchers as they humbly stood up to be recognized.

You really want to hug each one and thank them for being in the crosshairs of hope and science. Can't you hear their calls home? Sorry, honey, the boss just gave me a new project. I will be home late, for the next five to 10 years.

Never, ever give up
It's time for all of us who have been affected by cancer to savor the progress in science that needs to be celebrated. When Addie was 9 years old, DNA analysis cost a cool $3 billion and took several years. Addie is now 19 and that same genome sequencing costs only three hours and $300.

I personally thanked John Mendelsohn, M.D., the previous MD Anderson president, for the research that brought childhood leukemia from a certain negative outcome to 80% survivorship odds.

MD Anderson's emphasis on patient-centered care has taught me empowerment to become an advocate, as they set an example such as this Moon Shots Program. It gives credence to the motto, "Never, ever give up."

Because of the combining of old drugs, Addie is now a proud Aggie, which brings me to the rest of the Friday story.

As I drove home from the MD Anderson moon shot announcement, I gave thanks to research that allowed Jack and me to attend Parents Weekend at Texas A&M. This is a rite of passage to all empty-nest parents, but Jack and I will never take these for granted after fighting the fear that suffocates you in times of grief.

To watch Addie participating at Midnight Yell alongside his fellow Aggies gave me a lump in my throat. What pride researchers must have as they work for that light bulb moment that changes the lives of patients and their families.

Addie proudly showed us around campus as we witnessed the Corps parade towards the stadium at game time. To see this wonderful tradition as we stood next to various generations of Aggies made even this Longhorn weepy and grateful for the stolen time with our favorite youngest son.

I know this Moon Shots Program will be controversial but I applaud the guts of this institution that's throwing down the gantlet down and saying, "Cancer, you are not the boss of me!"

In the pre-election mudslinging that we are so fatigued with, it gives me hope when this trailblazer turns to a cancer survivor and commits to her by saying, "It's our battle, we stand shoulder to shoulder with you."

We all need to put our oar in the water and row in the same direction as our fearless leader. I'm in, how about you?

"How can we envision what's possible to reduce cancer mortality if we think boldly, adopt a more goal-oriented mentality, ignore the usual strictures on resources that encumber academic research and use the breakthrough technology available today?" -- Ronald DePhinho, M.D., MD Anderson President

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