We Demand a Cure in Our Time

Back in April of this year, the 10th Anniversary Sarcoma Foundation of America Gala was held in New York, NY.  Each year during the Gala, the SFA Courage Award is presented to individuals honoring their strength and perseverance in their battle against sarcoma.  The honorees at the 2012 Gala were inspiring and their stories powerful.  One of the Courage Award recipients, Kurt Weiss, MD, spoke on behalf of the group.

Though we are months past this year’s Gala, we thought that the words that Dr. Weiss spoke this past April should be shared again.  We hope you find his resolve toward finding the cure to be inspirational.

We should note that not only is Dr. Weiss a sarcoma survivor, he is now a doctor and researcher who has devoted his career to helping sarcoma patients.

Kurt Weiss, MD, 2012 SFA Courage Award Recipient

“On behalf of Maura, McKenna, Joe, Paul, Wendy, Robert, Rhoda, and myself, we gratefully and humbly accept these 2012 Sarcoma Foundation of America Courage Awards.

First I would like to have a moment of silence for one of our recipients, Mr. Paul Icovitti. You can read his bio in the program, but some points demand special mention. He fought for the United States in Vietnam. In 2005 Paul was diagnosed with a sarcoma in his thigh and bravely fought it for seven years. Paul went to heaven on January 31, 2012. He is survived by his wife Barbara, two daughters, and five grandchildren. Earlier this month Paul’s daughters ran the Boston Marathon in his honor. Let us take a moment to reflect on the courage of Paul Icovitti.

In addition to his family, Paul is survived by all of us, and he has left us an assignment.

This is a fantastic event! The educational conference yesterday was inspiring and informative. We’re in New York City, all dressed up, enjoying the company of family and friends. But Paul’s story reminds us that we are here to work. This gala brings us face to face with several unequivocal realities. Progress in the surgical and medical care of sarcoma IS being made. Many of us, myself included, are alive because of advances in sarcoma research. There are many causes for pride and enthusiasm. But we must acknowledge the fact that there is an empty chair at the table where Paul should be. I have adult and pediatric patients fighting for their lives back in Pittsburgh. The pathway for bringing promising new sarcoma treatments to the patients who need them is excessively complex and ponderous. There is much work to do.

We have only two questions to answer tonight. Is finding a cure for sarcoma in our time worth the effort, and is it possible?

I think the first question is easy for this crowd to answer. If we weren’t passionate about fighting sarcoma, none of us would be here tonight. Sarcoma is a vile, hateful, relentless adversary. It robs our loved ones of their health, their independence, and sometimes their lives. I have lost enumerable friends, young and old, to sarcoma. Now I have started to lose patients and I DO NOT care for it. The path of destruction that sarcoma leaves in its wake for patients and their loved ones is not acceptable and it has to end.

Now, to accurately answer the question of whether a cure in our time is possible or not, we need to examine the facts. I am a good person to make this evaluation. As a patient, a volunteer, a surgeon, and a scientist I have fought sarcoma for nearly 23 years. Based on everything I have learned in these past two decades I can tell you that without question, sarcoma can be cured in our time. As evidence of this claim, allow me to submit myself, my fellow Courage Award recipients, and all the survivors in the audience as evidence. When I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in the spring of 1989 the cancer had already spread to my lungs. Despite chemotherapy and surgery, it returned to my lungs with a vengeance. I needed something new and different. I am alive because a wonderful, brilliant woman at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston said, “I have a crazy idea. Why don’t we use the body’s own immune system to fight the sarcoma cells that have gone into these kids’ lungs?” Dr. Eugenie Kleinerman, my mentor and hero, saved my life with her crazy idea.

But the story doesn’t end with Dr. Kleinerman and me. Many of the Courage Award recipients have been diagnosed with gastrointestinal stromal tumor, or GIST. Today, this type of sarcoma is treated with medications called tyrosine kinase inhibitors. At the time of the first Sarcoma Foundation Gala 10 years ago, these medicines were only beginning to be investigated for GIST. Now they are the accepted treatment and more effective than we could have dreamed. Much of this pioneering research was done by Dr. George Demetri who spoke at yesterday’s educational conference. Dr. Demetri’s work has changed the world and saved many lives.

But Dr. Kleinerman and Dr. Demetri didn’t achieve success without a lot of help. They relied on the support of wonderful individuals just like you who believed in them and gave them the resources to save our lives. I’m not alive just because of Dr. Kleinerman-I’m alive because of you!

So when you donate to the SFA, don’t donate with the thought that maybe it might do some good someday. No- donate with the confident expectation that it’s going to save lives, and we’re going to win. The Courage Award recipients do not wish for a cure in our time-we expect a cure in our time. We demand a cure in our time.

Make no mistake, sarcoma research saves lives. As you can see, there are many of us whose lives have been saved because generous people like you supported sarcoma research. So from the bottom of my heart, with all the love in my heart, on behalf of myself, my family, my patients, the Courage Award recipients, and all the lives you are saving tonight, thank you. Let us give generously, and ensure that Paul Icovitti’s legacy will be a cure in our time. Thank you and God Bless you.”