Battle against cancer takes center stage at Strings Music Pavilion |

Battle against cancer takes center stage at Strings Music Pavilion

Carol O'Hare , who is on the board of overseers at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer center, and Suzi Mariano from Northwest Colorado Heath are excited that the groups will be hosting Precision Medicine In Cancer: :At the Crossroads of Research and Treatment for Patients, to Steamboat Springs this month.
John F. Russell

The six panelists from the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center who will take the stage at the Strings Music Pavilion are not rock stars — at least when it comes to the world of music.

But they are when it comes to the world of medicine.

“I am a cancer survivor, and I lost my husband in 2004 to non-smokers, or non-small cell, lung cancer,” Carol O’Hare said. “Cancer and the research in how to help other people when they get this diagnoses has always been a passion of mine. I’ve been on the board (of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center) for five years now. In the past, we have been trying to do this here, but there is a time and place for everything, and it finally came together this year.”

The panel, which is being presented by Northwest Colorado Health in association with the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, invites the community to come out for the free presentation of  “Precision Medicine in Cancer: At the Crossroads of Research and Treatment for Patients” from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Monday, July 17 at the Strings Music Pavilion.

“The reason why we are involved in this, and there are a few reasons, is we feel that personalized care really improves outcomes, and I think that is at the heart of what precision medical is,” said Suzi Mariano, with Northwest Colorado Health. “Most of the enquiries I’ve gotten from the public so far is people who are curious about what precision medicine is and what the opportunities are in precision medicine. It’s mainly people who have been impacted by cancer — themselves or by somebody they know — but there is just a lot of  curiosity about what is out there and what’s available. I think one of our core values (at Northwest Colorado Health) is  we believe that people should have the opportunity to achieve their best health, and that’s what we do.”

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The names on the panel are not as well-known as the musical talent the venue hosts each summer, but they are just as notable in the world of science.

It includes Kimryn Rathmell, MD, PHS, and director of hematology/oncology at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer — which is nationally ranked, according to O’Hare.

“Kim will introduce and talk about precision medicine,” she said, “what it means, how it works and the research  and treatment that goes along with it.”

Rathmell will be joined in an informal panel by a who’s who  of scientific minds, including Douglas Johnson, Katy Beckerman, Justin M. Balko, Barbara Mupshy and Stephen A. Strickland.

The panel of oncologists and medical researchers from Vanderbilt-Ingram will each introduce and talk about a topic, and at the end of the presentation, there will be time for questions an answers. The 90-minute forum is a chance to learn about precision medicine through an educational forum for patents families, medical professionals and everyone touched by cancer, something O’Hare has experienced firsthand.

O’Hare, who now sits on the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center board of overseers, is a 19-year cancer survivor who lost her husband, a non-smoker, to lung cancer in 2004. Both Carol and her husband were treated at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, and she credits members of the staff for saving her life after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. O’Hare has remained cancer free since 1998.

But like so many people in our community, she could not escape the reach of cancer. In 2004, while on vacation and relaxing after she and her husband had completed a 100-mile fundraising bike ride for the LiveStrong Foundation, her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer.

His only symptom was a nagging, throat-clearing cough. The O’Hares returned to Vanderbilt-Ingram to aggressively combat cancer for the second time, but three weeks later, he died. O’Hare believes many of the advances being made in cancer these days could have improved her husband’s outcome. It’s one of the reasons she supports the advancements in cancer research and believes it’s important to reach out the the community and inform people about what’s happening.

“All of these speakers are excellent,” O’Hare said. “They are all so personable. … They can really reach out to our community and help them understand why this is important.”

She said when her husband was diagnosed with cancer, it was a crap shoot. There were only a certain number of drugs  and treatments, and doctors were not using genetics to pave the path to the best treatment at that time.

“it was all trial and error,” she said. “They would try one treatment, and if that didn’t work, is was on to another.”

Her husband’s cancer was so advanced he didn’t have time to find the right treatment, and research in the years following his death revealed that the first drug that doctors tried would not have been effective. But things are changing, and these days, O’Hare said, they are changing at a pace that is hard to keep up with thanks to the research that is going on at Vanderbilt-Ingram, around the country and around the world.

After her husband’s death, O’Hare set out to make a difference in the world of cancer and never forgot the caring, impactful care she and her husband received at Vanderbilt-Ingram.

She set up a substantial, ongoing donation to establish the Carol and Jim O’Hare Fund and endowed fund to support the training of hematology/oncology fellows. Or, as she calls them, “her fellows.”

When cancer treatment and research takes center state at the Strings Pavilion on July 17, many of the exceptional minds will be on stage, hoping to enlighten attendees about the ongoing quest to better treat cancer and find better methods and research to reduce its impacts on families.

O’Hare said the scientist are coming through her connections to Vanderbilt Ingram, but stressed the event is not about promoting a single treatment center or research facility. It’s about the medicine and what’s happening in the world of cancer treatment.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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