By Leslie Krowchenko, Special to the Hellenic News of America
Hippocrates, known as the “Father of Medicine,” is recognized as one of the most outstanding figures in the history of the science. The Hippocratic school of medicine revolutionized the field from one of spiritual beliefs and practices to a profession based in physical cause and effect.
The Hippocratic Cancer Research Foundation (HCRF) and Eleni Bousis, chair of its founding board, have a similar mission.
HCRF supports the research efforts of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Its signature event, the Wings to Cure Gala, raised more than $1.5 million this year to support the center’s pioneering work.
“We have helped to fund 18 new trial drugs, four of which are receiving FDA approval,” said Bousis. “We want to cure the world from suffering and pain.”
Similar to the 54 percent of Americans who note they or someone in their immediate family has been diagnosed with cancer at some point (https://www.cbnews.com), Bousis knows the challenge of hearing those words. In her 60s, her mother, Bessie, learned she had acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a form of cancer which starts in the bone marrow and quickly moves into the blood. It can sometimes spread to other parts of the body including the lymph nodes, liver, spleen and central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).
Given two-five months to live, her mother chose to engage in an experimental drug trial conducted by Leonidas Platanias, MD, director of the Lurie Cancer Center. She was isolated for three months, then given medication. Dr. Platanias waited with the family for hours, watching for the successful results. The hives on her fingers and toes indicated the drug was working.
“My mother lived another 17 years,” said Bousis. “She knew the medication helped not only her, but patients throughout the globe.”
Inspired by the center’s innovative approach, Bousis was one of four individuals who founded HCRF in 2014 in the hope of making a difference for those impacted by hearing the word “cancer.” The foundation’s mission is to eliminate the disease and save lives by funding the discovery, development and implementation of effective new therapies and groundbreaking research.
The desire to raise funds was personal for each of the co-founders. All knew Bousis’ mother and her remarkable recovery, but were also touched by friends who lost kids to cancer.
“Moms and dads should not bury their children, nor should young adults bury their parents,” she said. “We decided ‘let’s see what we can do to rid the world of this horrible disease.’”
The Lurie Cancer Center and its physicians treat nearly 16,000 patients each year, offering a full range of prevention, early detection, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care programs. Its approximately 300 researchers have annually been awarded $200 million in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for cancer-relevant research. The center emphasizes translational cancer research, the process by which the results in the laboratory are used to develop new ways to diagnose and treat disease.
The center is a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), an alliance of 28 of the world’s leading cancer centers dedicated to quality and effectiveness of cancer care. Through NCCN, important guidelines and standards of care are established and emulated at cancer centers throughout the country.
Like a proud mother (she and her husband, Dimitri “Jimmy,” are the parents of four), Bousis speaks with the same satisfaction about HCRF’s association with the Lurie Cancer Center. With the foundation’s support, the center has made significant progress and breakthroughs in understanding how the immune system works and developing immune therapies; identifying promising new drug targets for brain cancer; launching innovative clinical trials for gynecological tumors, leukemia, lymphomas, prostate and breast cancer and supporting studies involving a unique “cancer kill code.”
“HCRF provides funding for ‘think outside the box’ research,” she said. “The Lurie Cancer Center addresses the most urgent concerns in the fields of cancer biology and oncology in daring and innovative ways, by personalizing treatment for every cancer patient.”
The seventh annual gala, held Nov. 12 at the Hilton Chicago, had the theme “A Hand To Hold.” The black-tie event, with more than 1,000 attendees, was emceed by three Chicago news anchors, two of whom are cancer survivors, and included testimonials from patients whose lives have been saved by the Lurie Cancer Center’s research. The evening was a success due to the generosity of its many sponsors and supporters.
“HCRF donates 94.5 percent of each dollar raised to cancer research,” said Bousis. “We do not have a large administrative staff and have only two active philanthropic associates, which is the reason we are able to raise such significant amounts at every event we host”
While the gala may be the face of the foundation, it is only one of the ways in which HCRF supports the Lurie Cancer Center and its patients. The foundation has pop-up parties, a weekly newsletter featuring information about programs and research efforts and monthly Zoom talks.
“The talks always have time for a Q&A,” said Bousis. “People are often afraid about issues surrounding their disease and this is a time to ask about their concerns, fears, challenges and struggles to overcome this disease and live life to its fullest.”
HCRF also addresses the everyday issues of those battling cancer. Treatments have many side effects, which occur when healthy cells are damaged, and each person may react differently to various medicines and kinds of treatment. Side effects can include being prone to infection, swelling, nausea, “chemo brain” (trouble concentrating or remembering) and pain.
“It is difficult to feel beautiful when your skin is peeling, you are losing your hair or your fingers and toes are numb,” said Bousis. “Our fashion shows allow people to look beautiful while they are facing challenges.”
The 2023 fashion show will be held June 22 at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The evening will feature models showcasing right off the runway fashions, drinks, music and hors d’oeuvres. The theme will be “The Secret Garden” and money raised will go toward curating health and beauty filled baskets that will be offered for purchase and given to those battling the disease.
Cancer is like an omnipresent cloud over one’s head, a condition Bousis understands only too well. Working through HCRF, she knows a ray of sunlight is in the forecast.
“We hear great stories of those whose lives have been saved by the research at the Lurie Cancer Center,” she said. “Through our work, we pray that we offer hope and life.”