MUNSTER – Munster resident Leslie Darrow celebrated several new beginnings in 2018. She was married in September, her daughter graduated from high school and she was diagnosed with cancer. Yes, she celebrated her diagnosis of invasive HER-2 Stage II breast cancer with a pink party held for her Hartsfield Village work family.
“The power of positivity is huge,” said Darrow, who serves as vice president Post-Acute Services for Community Healthcare System. “There’s a lot to celebrate because we caught this early and I have a lot of support. We are all in this together.”
Darrow credits her positive experience in part to cancer research. Darrow’s chemotherapy regimen includes drugs that weren’t available some 15 years ago. One of those drugs the Community Cancer Research Foundation in Munster offered access to as part of a national clinical trial. The trial was stopped early due to positive results, leading to FDA approval of those drugs that are now routine targeted therapy for HER2 positive cancer.
The trial was NSABP B-31, according to Mary Shields, administrator for the Community Cancer Research Foundation. Prior to that trial, Herceptin was only used in the metastatic setting, she said.
“That study used Herceptin in the adjuvant setting with women who were HER-2 positive and we enrolled about eight patients,” she said. “It was a landmark trial that was stopped early due to the positive results. That does not happen often.”
“The fact that my local healthcare system was a part of this study that made this drug available to me 10 to 12 years later is amazing,” Darrow said. “This drug is a game changer for women with my same type of cancer. The drug shields my cells if my cancer should try to come back in five, 10 or 15 years.”
“The level of care I have received from Community Healthcare System throughout my journey has been exceptional from my oncologist Mohamad Kassar, MD, general surgeon Nabil Shabeeb, MD, plastic surgeon David Robinson, MD, and radiologist Mary Nicholson, MD, to the nurse practitioners, nurses, clinicians and radiology technicians,” she said. “Research is real! It’s happening in our backyard and it is saving lives.”
For her dedication to breast cancer research and the advancement of survivorship, Darrow has been named as the guest of honor who will light the trees at the Lights of Life ceremony this year. The colorful holiday lights shine outside Community Hospital in Munster with the hope that a cure will be found for cancer.
For the past 18 years, holiday lights on the Lights of Life trees outside Community Hospital in Munster have been illuminated and serve as a reminder of the journey of hope that goes along with a cancer diagnosis. Each brilliant pink and lavender light on the Lights of Life trees represents a donation made to the Community Cancer Research Foundation, Inc. The Foundation supports important cancer research initiatives that improve the community’s access to the latest advances in prevention, detection and treatment of breast and other cancers.
This year the tree lights will include white lights in memory of Lights of Life program co-founder Mylinda Cane. Cane, who worked for the healthcare system as regional director of marketing and a longtime advocate for cancer research, died this past September 29 after her own four-year battle with metastatic breast cancer.
Nearly 200 area residents will gather in attendance as the pine trees – with white, lavender and pink lights – are illuminated in honor those touched by cancer. The pink trees represent those with breast cancer and the lavender trees symbolize all types of cancer.
Donors and their honorees are invited to the tree lighting ceremony at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 5, at the Community Hospital Outpatient entrance off Columbia and Fisher Avenues. Anyone may participate and “purchase” a light for the Lights of Life trees to honor a special person in their life. Each light represents a $5 donation, which may be made to the Community Cancer Research Foundation. For a $15 donation, a pink breast cancer awareness pin, a lavender cancer awareness pin, or a Hope lapel cancer awareness pin can also be sent to honorees along with a gift card in addition to reserving a light.
Special musical entertainment will accompany the tree lighting including a performance by Christopher Kale Jones. Jones makes his acting debut at the Theatre at the Center (TATC) in Munster as Fred in "Miracle on 34th Street: the Musical". TATC audiences may remember him from his one-man Bobby Darin tribute in June, entitled "DARIN: Bobby's Biggest Hits," presented in conjunction with the "Artists Lounge Live" series, as well as numerous appearances at the well-remembered Star Plaza Theatre with his band PBS favorite, "Under The Streetlamp". He will be performing the song "This is Me" from "The Greatest Showman".
The Lights of Life program began in 2000. To date, the Lights of Life program has raised more than $200,000 to bring cancer research programs to people in Northwest Indiana.
After the tree-lighting ceremony, all attendees are invited inside for refreshments following the program. Cards and pins will be sent out until Dec. 31. All donations to the program are tax deductible and are used to sponsor local research trials for area patients. For more information on this program, call 219-836-6875. Donations are also accepted online at: myccrf.com.