On a quest to conquer cancer, these alums are making a difference.
Dr. Lynne Jalovec’s 22-year career as a surgeon has coincided with tremendous advances in awareness and treatment of breast cancer.
It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday — a morning when DR. LYNNE JALOVEC ’78 is meeting with a new patient in her downtown office. Finding the breast cancer surgeon consulting with patients and their families until nine o’clock is just as likely on weeknights.
“I don’t get interrupted in the evenings so I have quality time with the patients. I’m dealing with them when they’re most vulnerable,” says Jalovec, who spends about two hours with new breast cancer patients. “They need people to have that empathy with them.”
In medical school, Jalovec initially dismissed the idea of specializing in surgery, believing there wouldn’t be enough contact with patients. Mentors who approached patients with a gentle bedside manner showed her that didn’t have to be the case. Today, Jalovec’s practice is to follow patients for 10 years. The very first visit is scheduled when a woman is newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
“We are the captain of the ship,” she says of her office and dedicated staff. “We make sure the patient is on the right path.” They schedule appointments with other physicians the patient might need to see — radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, breast imaging doctor, plastic surgeon, cardiologist, and primary care physician.
Two decades ago, mastectomies (removal of the breast) were the standard treatment. “Breast conservancy was very rarely done. The first article about it wasn’t published in the U.S. until 1985.”
Jalovec was finishing her residency in surgery at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in 1987 just as the hospital was hiring a nationally known mammography specialist, Dr. William Eklund. He planned to start an off-site mammography center — the Susan G. Komen Breast Center — and approached Dr. Jalovec. “I was in the right place at the right time,” she comments. “He also wanted to beef up breast surgery in town. A group of us went to a conference on breast imaging in California.”
The conference featuring Dr. Laszlo Tabar, a Swedish physician, energized Jalovec to investigate breast conservation (lumpectomies). “There was already good data that this was a good, safe procedure in Europe,” she explains. Jalovec came back enthusiastic about another revolutionary concept as well — the idea of a comprehensive or multidisciplinary approach to treatment. It involves a number of specialists sitting down together and weighing in on the best course of action for individual patients. In Peoria, at OSF Saint Francis and Methodist Medical Center the meetings are called “Tumor Board” and are held weekly.
Wherever there was a conference in the U.S. about breast cancer, Jalovec was there. “Educational meetings for your specialty were common in the ’80s, but breast cancer meetings were almost nonexistent. There were no books for it. You couldn’t go read about it,” she explains. In the evenings, the female surgeons networked. “We would get together over dinner and talk about ‘how do you do this or how do you do that?’.”
The pendulum swings
“The breast cancer death rate has dropped significantly — 2 percent per year — in the last decade. No other cancer has done that well in the last 10 years,” she is pleased to point out.
According to Jalovec, the survival rates for lumpectomy candidates (which include about 80 percent of the patients), are identical to patients who have mastectomies. Lumpectomies are always followed by radiation treatments, she explains, because the breast is “sterilized” with the radiation.
Recovery time from outpatient lumpectomies averages two weeks, whereas mastectomy recovery requires six to eight weeks. For about 15 years, lumpectomies gained so much favor that locally they outnumbered mastectomies about 70 percent to 30 percent. In the last two to three years, Jalovec notes, the numbers are more even. “Breast reconstruction is so much better than it used to be,” she explains, leading more women to opt for mastectomies.
Patients and their family members often ask Jalovec which treatment she would choose if she were in their situation. “I don’t tell them what to do unless there’s a better choice,” she remarks.
A busy college life allowed the Bradley cheerleader and student aide to master time management skills, and prepare for the rigors of medical school and life as a doctor. During her four years on the squad, cheerleaders traveled to away games. “The teachers understood I needed to be away. Sometimes I would finish a test and run to the bus for a game,” Jalovec remembers. “Bradley was very good to me.”
During junior and senior years, Jalovec researched cyclic AMP in plant tumors. “That background was helpful when I applied to medical school,” she notes. “As a young girl, I loved science.”
Jalovec has always stayed up on the very latest advances and strived to have topnotch facilities in her community. Statistics show that half her patients come from more than 50 miles away.
Recently, OSF Saint Francis Komen Breast Center became accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC), one of the first four centers in the nation. The American College of Surgeons developed the program, and Jalovec had volunteered the local center as a pilot program.
She also has been a key part of a national clinical trial for sentinel lymph node biopsies. Run by the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project in Pittsburgh, the trial involved injecting patients with a harmless radioactive substance and blue dye in order to identify problematic lymph nodes. One of the first names appearing in the study that included 230 doctors is Dr. Lynne Jalovec. With 150 of her patients in the trial, she was #1 in the country for putting patients in the study. The advantage is a reduced risk of lymphedema (painful swelling of the arm) after surgery because fewer nodes are removed.
Part of a group of general surgeons for her first 10 years after residency, Jalovec began her own practice in 1998. “Becoming a breast cancer surgeon was the best decision of my life,” she remarks. Hundreds of her patients are thankful she did.
Pink ribbons are everywhere, and it all started with a family and a promise made in Peoria.
Sitting by itself on a glass tabletop, a model airplane appears to be a novel knickknack in the office of ERIC BRINKER ’98. Closer inspection reveals the Boeing 777 is there for a reason. It has something other planes don’t — a pink ribbon painted from nose to tail.
Unveiled in August 2008, the jet reflects American Airlines’ dedication to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. A longtime Komen sponsor, the company committed to donating $1 million annually for eight years toward finding a cure for a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. While the airplane carries what is probably the largest breast cancer ribbon in the world, many other “pink” products — from Yoplait yogurt to KitchenAid mixers to New Balance shoes — help fund breast cancer research as well.
It hasn’t always been that way. The son of Komen founder Nancy Goodman Brinker, Eric Brinker remembers the early years when companies didn’t want to be associated with something negative like cancer. “My mother was very dedicated to fulfilling the promise she made to my aunt, and she was laughed out of board rooms. I think her outrage motivated her,” Brinker recalls from his youth. “The lesson I learned from it is, just don’t give up.”
Brinker’s earliest memory is visiting his aunt while spending the summer in Peoria. “I never saw her as being sick,” Brinker recalls. “But my mom points out that she was very sick at that time.” Brinker’s aunt, Susan Goodman Komen, died at age 36 in 1980, and her dying wish provided the inspiration for the international organization bearing her name. It was an era when talking about breast cancer was still taboo. “My aunt asked my mom to promise to change the face of the disease. That promise started here in Peoria.”
Two years later when Brinker was seven, his mother told him she had breast cancer. “It was very scary. I still remember exactly where I was when she told me. It was at the same time she was trying to build Komen,” Brinker says.
A more positive memory is from just a few months back when Brinker happened to be in the room as his mother received an important phone call. The caller was President Barack Obama with news that Nancy Brinker was being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That led to a once-in-a-lifetime moment — Eric was with her at the White House on August 12, 2009, when she received the nation’s highest civilian honor for her work with breast cancer.
“Next to the U.S. government, we (Komen for the Cure) have contributed more money to research than any other source in the world,” he says proudly. “One hundred percent of what is raised by our 150-plus Affiliates goes toward our mission,” Brinker notes, adding that 75 percent of the funds raised from races stays in that community, and the other 25 percent funds global research.
With a target of 25,000 participants and the goal of raising more funds to provide local grants for mammograms, registration for the 2010 race in Peoria begins on January 1, months earlier than other years. Bradley alumni are encouraged to register as part of Team Bradley. President Joanne Glasser, herself a breast cancer survivor, is honorary chair of Peoria’s 25th annual Komen race.
The May 8th race will be Eric Brinker’s first as co-chair, although he has helped out at races in Peoria and other cities since they began in the ’80s. The event begins at 8 a.m. in the parking lot of the Metro Centre, the shopping center Brinker’s grandfather built 30-plus years ago. “My grandfather couldn’t have been happier that I picked Bradley University,” Brinker recalls. Chili’s, just across the street from the Metro Centre, is where Brinker worked as a server and trainer all through college. A highlight of his student days was helping open a Chili’s in Beijing, China. His father, Norman Brinker, founder of the Chili’s restaurant chain, died last June. He presented a McCord Lecture at Bradley in 1996.
Brinker returned to Peoria in 2007 to oversee a portfolio of commercial real estate, including the Metro Centre, splitting his time with marketing consulting work in New York City. In addition, Brinker is a national spokesman for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. He always has time to devote to the organization that is now the global leader in the movement to eradicate breast cancer.
Does what you eat really make a difference? This government researcher says yes.
Oncologists and surgeons deal with patients battling cancer, but prevention is the focus of other professionals who wage war against the disease. DR. SUSAN KREBS-SMITH ’76 researches how diet and other factors affect an individual’s cancer risk. She has worked at the National Cancer Institute since 1991, and became chief of the Risk Factor Monitoring and Methods Branch in 1999. The branch is in the Applied Research Program in the division of cancer control and population sciences.
The program researches physical activity, weight status, tobacco use, sun exposure, and genetics and family history. Krebs-Smith’s special interest, however, is trends in the intake of foods and nutrients — especially fruits and vegetables. “Nearly all Americans don’t get the recommended amount of dark green and orange vegetables, legumes, or whole grains,” she notes.
Citing studies that show obesity is linked to cancer, Krebs-Smith is concerned that since 1970 the obesity rate in the U.S. has tripled for children and doubled for adults. One particularly troubling finding is that adult males over age 19 tend to consume more than 1,000 calories per day from foods that have empty calories. (The researchers call them SoFAAS — solid fats, alcoholic beverages, and added sugars.) “If you have to cut back on calories, it seems this would be the first place you’d want to cut back,” says the researcher. With so many foods a healthy person should consume on a daily basis, there isn’t much room for empty calories, she notes.
Originally a sociology major at Bradley, Krebs-Smith switched to dietetics during her sophomore year. As her career unfolded, it turned out to be a mix of social research and nutrition. “The area of dietary research that I’m involved with is a narrow niche, but it’s a nice blend of things I learned at Bradley,” she remarks.
A member of the drafting committee for the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Krebs-Smith also works on future demand for food commodities and the evaluation of the nation’s food supply. The possibility of “food deserts” in communities where healthy foods aren’t readily available is being studied.
A challenge for her branch is finding methods for individuals to accurately report what they eat. “Asking them to describe their diet is like asking them to describe a kaleidoscope,” she comments. Her office has supported the collection of dietary data in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (or NHANES, pronounced N-hanes). NHANES asks individuals to describe all the details of their food intake during the previous 24 hours, on two different days. Each person is also asked to complete a food frequency questionnaire. It asks questions such as “In the past 12 months, how often did you eat popcorn?”
Other recent research includes a look back at food supply data since 1970. “I’m sorry to say the American diet hasn’t improved over all that time,” says Krebs-Smith, who holds advanced degrees in public health and nutrition. Now that the obesity issue is in the national spotlight, she hopes the intake of fruit, vegetables, milk, and whole grains will increase, and that the American public will become healthier.