Cancer Awareness, Research, Prevention & Education


Vol. 5: Spring 2023

Presented By

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Welcome to C.A.R.P.E. DIEM

A collaborative effort to raise cancer awareness

 -Brett Hartigan, Monica Hill, Sara Svendsen-

Vaccines, insurance, and legislature, oh my!

This spring, we're diving into some of the toughest topics.

Keep reading, you won't want to miss this one.


A Vaccine Transformation

After the Covid-19 pandemic it is safe to say that we all consider ourselves experts in the field of vaccines. But if we were being honest with ourselves, do we really know anything about them? Maybe the general specifics. We know that vaccines are used to transport medicines into the body to help fight diseases, but how do they actually do that? We know there are successful vaccines for certain diseases like Smallpox, Shingles, Rabies, and Polio, but are there any existing vaccines strong enough to take on cancer? Unfortunately, not really… At least not yet. 

Cancer is fluid by nature, always changing. Anytime we get close to cornering it, the disease mutates and adapts, making most basic vaccines useless. However, things may be changing as a new approach to vaccinations known as Rational Vaccinology aims to redesign the battle against cancer. Believe it or not, architecture is a crucial element in determining vaccine effectiveness. Much like skilled architects, the researchers from the International Institute of Nanotechnology at Northwestern University believe that a sound structure is important for any successful project. 

Before we continue, allow me to draw your attention to two words that will become important building blocks throughout the remainder of this article. 

  • Antigen: If you’re familiar with our newsletter you will probably have heard this term before, but for our new readers, an antigen is a toxin or another foreign substance that induces an immune response in the body, especially the production of antibodies
  • Adjuvant: A substance that enhances the body's immune response to an antigen. Adjuvants are generally applied after the initial treatment to help prevent cancer from regrouping 

Rational Vaccinology is a unique approach that utilizes both of these ingredients and the vaccine's architectural design for ideal efficacy. Vaccines developed through this process deliver a precise dose of both the antigen and the adjuvant to every immune cell to optimize the body's defense systems against cancer. The rationality behind this method is actually quite simple: properly arming your soldiers for the battle. At least this is what Director Chad A. Mirkin, the Lead Investigator of this study, believes. He describes the immune system as our own personal army. Our soldiers are against diseases so to speak. Naturally, we want to ensure that our “soldiers” are armed with the right tools to get the job done.. 

Research shows that traditional vaccines leave some of these “soldiers” unarmed. Many of the current trial vaccines are designed to primarily activate cytotoxic T Cells, which is only one defense against a cancer cell. The problem is that tumor cells are difficult to pin down when you only attack them one way because they are always mutating. The cells adapt quickly which gives them the ability to escape this treatment with relative ease. Rational vaccines aim to provide necessary backup, and arm each and every cell with a powerful enough weapon to destroy cancer cells.

The vaccines developed by director Mirkin’s team have shown a 40% extension in median survival rates. The trick to their success is that these vaccines activate more than one kind of T cell, which drastically improves the odds of your immune cells recognizing and attacking mutating cancer cells. They do this by doubling the number of antigens and adjuvants used in the vaccine and making slight adjustments to where the two ingredients are located in the structure of the vaccine. The study found that even this slight change to the vaccine's design greatly improved cell-to-cell communication. 

Historically, cancer vaccines have mostly proven unsuccessful. That is why most cancer vaccines are only offered through clinical trials and are generally personalized for a specific patient. By utilizing this combination of chemistry, nanotechnology, and strangely enough architecture, Director Mirkin’s team has created a vaccine strong enough to induce long-lasting tumor remission in multiple patients. This potential could one day change the status quo in the battle against cancer.

If you would like to learn more about Rational Vaccinology please click here.

The Cost of Cancer

I can't afford any of this.

Cancer can be a deadly diagnosis, and an incredibly expensive one to boot. The fact is, once you are done with your battle against the “Big C” you will immediately have to step back into the ring with an equally formidable opponent; Debt. In 2020 the American Cancer Society (ACS) wrote an article that shed a light on the egregious financial burdens placed upon cancer patients. It revealed that cancer treatments represent a notable portion of U.S. health care spending and that this cost continues to grow each year; much like cancer itself. Using the information gathered by ACS let us break down this wallet-consuming disease and unpack why the cost of cancer is so high.

I think we can all agree that your life should not be measured in dollar signs. Unfortunately, when you get sick you end up paying for it in more ways than one. Consider that the U.S. alone spent approximately $183 billion on cancer-related health care in 2015, which is projected to skyrocket to $256 billion by 2030! This cost is broken down and split up amongst the patient, their family, employer, insurance companies, and even tax-funded programs like Medicare. For an average patient and their families, the total cost of treatment can be almost as scary as the actual diagnosis. For example, in 2018, U.S. cancer patients were billed upwards of $5.6 Billion out-of-pocket for cancer treatment - this is completely absurd.

These costs are so outrageous because of the way cancer treatments are broken down. With over 200 different types of cancer, there is no definitive treatment plan. Traditionally, cancer can be treated three different ways: surgery, radiation, and pharmacological therapy. The prices for these treatments are always fluctuating because a patient might need only one of these options, while another might require a combination of two or three. If you take out the magnifying glass for a closer look at these expenses you will start to notice outside variations that can sometimes lead to an elevated level of financial risk. 

Factors like age, race, education, geographical location, and income all contribute to a patient's overall healthcare cost. Clinicians refer to these factors as the “social determinants of health”. Additionally, it is essential to have dependable health insurance, otherwise, the entire cost of your treatment(s) will come right out of your pockets. This would bankrupt the average American. Meanwhile, you might also get hit with a Surprise Bill. Don’t let the name fool you, this bill is way worse than any awkward surprise party. The actual bill is the difference between what the treatment provider charged and what your insurance company paid. Patients are generally hit with these types of bills when they are treated by an out-of-network provider. These bills occur more often than not, especially when visiting ancillary providers and specialty doctors.

There is no conclusive price for cancer, and even if there was you would never find it on sale. With a price tag that is always adding more zeroes, it gets harder and harder to expect someone to survive a deadly disease like cancer just to climb out of the subsequent debt that follows. Everyone knows it is not as simple as “you get sick, you receive medicine”, but you shouldn’t have to be a millionaire to afford cancer treatments. If you would like to learn more about how the cost of cancer is broken down please feel free to check out this extremely thorough study conducted by ACS.

If you are feeling generous and inclined to help those paying their way through this process, or if you yourself need additional resources or information, ACS will put you in touch with a number of programs and resources all aimed to support those who have cancer-related expenses. Learn more here.

Update: Cancer Moonshot Program

Previously in C.A.R.P.E. Diem, we reported about President Biden’s reignited Cancer Moonshot Initiative. The goal for this well-meaning program is to cut cancer-related deaths by half over the next 25 years while, simultaneously, improving the quality of life for cancer patients and survivors. Unfortunately, after just two years the Moonshot program is already facing difficulties in the form of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). 

The IRA has already made transformative changes to the U.S. economy and will provide much-needed improvements on things like:

  • Providing much-needed funds for clean energy
  • Expand tax credits for Americans who buy health insurance through the Affordable Care Act
  • Set prices for prescriptions drugs purchased through Medicare
  • Provide a cap on how much Medicare enrollees will have to spend out-of-pocket for prescriptions

These aims will unquestionably do a lot of good but, sadly, will have a negative impact on the Moonshot Initiative.

The price caps implemented by the IRA will significantly reduce biotech companies' revenue which is disincentivizing them in investing more into pharmaceutical research. Cancer research in particular is taking a considerable hit. It was predicted that spending on cancer R&D will decrease by about $18 billion annually due to the IRA and a number of planned clinical trials have already been canceled because investing in experimental drugs no longer makes financial sense to these companies.  This is difficult to consider seeing as more than 90% of all experimental drugs already do not make it past human trials and new cancer treatments have less than a 6% chance of even being approved. These are statistics that need to be raised, not further hindered, by bureaucracy.

As of now it seems that the fallout from the IRA is showing preferential treatment to “Large-Molecule” drugs. These are medicines that doctors inject or infuse into patients. This requires the patient to travel to the hospital or doctor’s office just to receive this treatment. Meanwhile “Small-Molecule” drugs, like pills, that a patient can take from the comfort of their own home are plummeting in support. In fact, a promising small-molecule blood cancer treatment has already been dropped, because, you guessed it, the companies working on it no longer saw financial reasons to continue supporting it….. 

What this information indicates, is that cancer has become as much a business as it is a disease. Money is what fuels these pharmaceutical companies into action. Without it they seem to lose focus on what is actually important, saving lives. So we encourage you, our faithful readers, to reach out to your local congressman or congresswoman to support bills like the Cancer Moonshot Initiative and to donate on behalf of cancer research. Every donation, big or small, will help support those living with and battling cancer!

Did you know that March was Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month? Fight Colorectal Cancer (Fight CRC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting colorectal cancer, has launched a new screening quiz to help people assess their risk of colorectal cancer and determine if they need to get screened.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. among men and women combined, yet one in three people are not up-to-date on their screening. The screening quiz only takes a few minutes to complete and consists of just a few questions, while determining how factors such as age, family history, and certain medical conditions affect the user’s risk of colorectal cancer. The colorectal cancer screening quiz aims to increase screening rates by providing accessible and user-friendly resources to help individuals take charge of their health.

In addition to the screening quiz, Fight CRC offers a variety of other resources for those affected by the disease, including an online support group named Community of Champions, and educational resources like a new screening brochure that can be accessed online or ordered through the Fight CRC store for free. Fight CRC is committed to raising awareness for colorectal cancer screening and early detection and the new screening quiz is just one way they are working towards that goal.

Take the Quiz

#OrangeUp! Last month, the KCA encouraged everyone to #OrangeUp for Kidney Cancer Awareness Month and honor those impacted by kidney cancer. Nearly 600,000 people live with kidney cancer in the U.S. but, with over a dozen approved treatments and huge strides in our understanding of kidney cancer and ability to support those impacted, the future looks brighter than ever. The KCA highlights the collective efforts of patients, families, and anyone who advocates to move the needle in kidney cancer. 

There are lots of ways to #OrangeUp – share your story, get a free orange ribbon, create a fundraiser, and more. Visit: https://www.kidneycancer.org/

April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month! While rare, testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 35. It is a highly treatable cancer especially if caught and treated early. With early detection, treatments are more effective and often less aggressive than when the cancer is detected in the later stages. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy and depending on the type and stage of cancer.

If found and treated early, testicular cancer is up to 99% curable!

How to Perform a Self Exam


...does it even matter?

It seems like every time you turn around, there is something new that causes cancer; and medical opinions keep changing about what works and what doesn’t. Not only can it be exhausting, it makes you wonder…what’s the point of awareness, research, prevention, and education? Does it even matter?

The short answer is yes, it does matter.

Take Paul Savage Jr., for example. In February 2020, Paul was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He is now in remission and a published author. Enjoy an excerpt about Paul's journey, in his own words:

"Despite the pandemic, my support system remained strong and immense. As the chemo sessions wore on and even a major surgery became imminent, I started an online blog called Fight Like A Savage (paying homage to my last name). I used this as a means to keep everyone updated on my thoughts, next steps, and more. It was too exhausting to respond to the barrage of messages I received while going through treatment. 

Even a year after I was in remission, mothers, wives, and girlfriends continued to find my story and thank me for sharing my journey so personally. As a professional marketer, I’m used to putting most aspects of my life out there. But, I still questioned stigmas and how open I should be though. With the encouragement of my friends and supporters, I finally turned the blog posts into my debut memoir, Diary of A Testicular Cancer Survivor, in June 2022.

My debut memoir would go on to hit the Amazon best-seller list and provide a platform for me to continue spreading awareness about testicular cancer. It was the confidence from publishing this book that gave me the initiative to go a step further.

I remember sitting in the chair during my sessions, watching the nurses come over with these labeled bags, ask me to state my full name and date of birth, and then verify the information between them both. I had a slight fear, but mostly a fascination with chemotherapy. It was during these sessions that I dreamt up the plot for my debut fiction novel, Chemo Containment."

We invite you to check out Paul's work:

Diary of a Testicular Cancer Survivor
Chemo Containment

Hairy Fact: Each strand of hair can support up to 100 grams of weight.

Multiply that by 150,000 strands of hair... Watch out Arnold, there's a new Mr. Universe in town!

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Disclaimer: This newsletter is not intended to provide medical advice. The content provided is for informational purposes only. No material in this newsletter is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions you may have regarding cancer or any other material mentioned in this newsletter.