Monday, February 23, 2015

Artist and Survivor Finds Inspiration During his Cancer Journey

“We discovered that the Abramson Cancer Center was a place that was really thinking through these big problems in cancer, and studying them as they are happening. In the cancer world, things are changing every day. It’s this moving target, so I was grateful to have found a place that values research, especially with a case like mine that doesn’t fit the mold. They created this treatment for me, and that was really important.”
- Jacob Riley-Wasserman, esophageal cancer survivor

Jacob Riley-Wasserman was only 23 when he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

He had just started a graduate program at NYU when he got the news, and was forced onto a much different path than most of his peers. “I felt like this doesn’t usually happen to someone my age, and so there’s no way that this could be that bad. It took a while to sort of just process it,” shared Jacob.

He turned to Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center and the Roberts Proton Therapy Center for treatment, which included 6 weeks of proton radiation and chemotherapy, to be followed by surgery. It was at the Roberts Center that Jacob became fascinated by the treatment process, as well as the technology and research that led to its advancement.

“The doctors at Penn really looked at me as a person. They didn’t look at me as a patient with esophageal cancer. They looked at me as Jacob with esophageal cancer, which was really important, because I’m a 23-year-old with esophageal cancer and that’s most common in 80-year-old men. They saw me, and they saw the things that I was interested in doing, and helped me make those really important connections that helped me think through this treatment.”

As a designer and artist, Jacob was especially drawn to the compensator blocks used to direct the proton beam to the treatment area.

“Compensator blocks are custom made to fit the patient and their particular tumor,” says Jim Metz, MD, interim chair of radiation oncology at Penn. “Before proton therapy begins, the blocks are created based on scans of the patient’s anatomy and tumor site. Each time they come in for therapy, the compensator blocks are placed in the beam line to shape the distribution of protons over the target area while sparing exposure to normal tissue.”

Jacob was so fascinated with the compensator block, he asked to take his home. “They have my anatomy carved into them, and they catch the light in this really beautiful way. Now I have them as book ends on my shelf; they have my name on them and my completion date.”

Then he had another idea. “I thought it would be a cool thing to start offering to patients,” says Jacob. In response, the Roberts Proton Therapy Center started a program in which patients take their blocks home, and make a small donation to the Beam of Life Campaign to support patient care, education, and research initiatives, so all patients can benefit.

Also a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Jacob’s received much acclaim for his Star Spangled Spatula design. After being diagnosed with cancer, Jacob thoughtfully added a philanthropic component to his business, donating half of the proceeds from his sales to the Abramson Cancer Center.

After taking a year off for treatments, Jacob is doing well back at NYU, busy taking classes and thinking of his next big idea.

To purchase a Star Spangled Spatula, or to learn more about Jacob, visit

Click here to make a gift to the Beam of Life Campaign for Radiation Oncology.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Abramson Cancer Center: Helping Patients and Families Start the New Year Off Right

We’re dedicated to providing our patients’ and families’ access to the most advanced possible research and patient care programs to ensure they have the best options to prevent, treat, and live after cancer. The Abramson Cancer Center supports patients throughout their cancer journey, giving them important tools to help ease the burden that cancer can bring, and help them heal.

BRAIN Behavioral Change Center

Dr. Caryn Lerman is leading the charge to better understand the brain's role in decision making, and develop ways to strengthen your resolve to make healthier life decisions, like quitting smoking and overeating. Watch a video about the BRAIN initiative here.

Smoking cessation programs are available through the Paul F. Harron, Jr. Lung Center.

Tracey L. Birnhak Nutritional Counseling Program

A healthy diet can help lower your risk for cancer, and prevent recurrence. The Tracey L. Birnhak Nutritional Counseling Program is a vital component to our patients care. Hear more healthy eating tips here.

Integrative Medicine and Wellness
See a video about how reiki, yoga, acupuncture, massage and other tools are helping to ease the burden of cancer for our patients and families. Join efforts to raise funds for a dedicated Relax and Renew Retreat for cancer patients by making a gift here. 

Mindfulness Meditation
Whether or not you have been directly affected by cancer, mindfulness meditation tools are a powerful way to increase awareness and methods to cope with stress. For course offerings or to make a gift to support bringing mindfulness to more people, click here.

Survivorship Program
Life doesn’t stop with cancer, and as survivorship continues to improve, it is important to be aware of potential long-term side effects from treatments, risk factors to discuss with your primary care physician, as well as screenings for recurrence. Read the story of Shantae ‘Shani’ Ockimey, a childhood cancer survivor and program participant.

The emotional toll that cancer brings can be overwhelming. Whether you are more comfortable in a group or individual setting, seeking counseling to talk about your cancer experience is an important part of one’s care. Support groups, psychosocial counselors through the Paula A. Seidman Psychosocial Counseling Program, social workers, and navigators are available to help at little or no cost.

OncoLink is the web’s first cancer information resource, started at Penn before Google and Yahoo, and provides important information and resources about cancer care, as well as blogs from a diverse set of voices. Check out their Holiday Survival Guide for helpful hints and precious memories from cancer survivors and their families.

Patient Education Conferences are available at no cost throughout the year, providing a forum to learn from experts across disciplines about the latest advances in care and treatment as well as meet other patients and survivors during these day-long, disease-specific conferences. See upcoming events here.

Giving Back

Philanthropy enables the Abramson Cancer Center to stay at the forefront of advanced research and provide the most comprehensive compassionate care and support services – providing hope to patients and families. Help support our mission by making a gift today.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Harron Lung Center Gift

John Hansen-Flaschen, MD, first met Paul Harron, Jr., in 2005, when he was emergently transferred to HUP in respiratory failure. “He said hello and then I intubated him,” he said. When they took up the conversation again, “Paul asked me what I was passionate about. I told him my lifelong dream was to create a lung center,” he said. “He took an interest in what we were doing.” Sadly, Harron, who was a broadcast and cable television pioneer, died before he could help Hansen-Flaschen realize his dream but his family followed through, honoring his commitment to support the lung center with a $10 million gift.

(From left) Giovanna Imbesi and Patti Imbesi (Paul’s sister and niece), John Hansen-Flaschen, MD, and his daughter, Lauren Billheimer, and Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, the Paul F. Harron Jr. Associate Professor of Medicine, of Pulmonary, Allergy & Critical Care.

“The Harron Center is the embodiment of John’s work,” said Michael Parmacek, MD, chair of Medicine, at the recent naming of the Paul F. Harron, Jr. Lung Center. “Humanism and caring touches everything he does. We need more physicians like John Hansen-Flaschen.”

Hansen-Flaschen modeled his idea for a multidisciplinary lung center on weekly conferences in the 1960s when specialists from pulmonary, thoracic surgery, radiology, and lung pathology would get together to discuss cases of interest and get to know each other. The Harron Center naming gift “provided funding for the physical space of the center, endowed two department professorships, delivered essential research support, and enabled us to offer one-stop convenience to our patients,” he said. “I am so grateful to members of his family.”

“The family’s generosity will have a huge impact on Penn for a long time, “ said J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and Dean of the Perelman School of Medicine.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mary’s Merry Mice

Four years ago, Mary Hopkinson started a project called Mary’s Merry Mice, while she was battling primary peritoneal cancer at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center. Knowing first-hand how trying it can be to undergo chemotherapy treatments during the holidays, Mary was inspired to brighten the spirits of her fellow patients and use her own creativity and experience to do so. She crafted thousands of felt mice ornaments with candy canes and distributed them at local hospitals, before she lost her own battle in September 2013.
12 year old, Trayton Budrow, with Mary's Merry Mice
To honor Mary’s spirit her close friend, Cindy Dabback, promised to continue this thoughtful tradition that brings smiles to the faces of patients in our community. This year, Cindy and volunteers have distributed 4,200 of Mary’s Merry Mice among five local hospitals, including the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Trayton Budrow with his mom, Lisa Budrow, and Cindy Dabback, volunteered to hand out Mary's Merry Mice at the Abramson Cancer Center.
Honor a loved one affected by cancer and raise vital funding by creating a giving page at To learn more about ways you can help give back and inspire hope, contact Penn Medicine Development at 215.898.0578 or

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Collaborative Spirit Provides Hope to Patients and Families this Holiday Season

“At CSL Behring, we appreciate our partnership with the United Way and every year help raise money for those less fortunate in our local communities. Our company matches individual contributions dollar for dollar, and donates those funds to causes identified by employees as closest to their hearts. We’re proud to support the Abramson Cancer Center as part of our 2014-2015 United Way Campaign in recognition of our employees’ passion for supporting Health and Cancer-related initiatives.”

-Karen Etchberger, Executive Vice President, Quality and Business Services, CSL Behring

The holiday season is a time for giving back and celebrating with friends and family. And for many of our patients and families battling cancer, philanthropic support eases the financial burden that cancer brings – enabling them to enjoy the holiday’s just like everyone else. Imagine having to choose between paying for your medical bills and buying your 6 year-old child a new toy? Because of our wonderful community of supporters, including companies like CSL Behring who helped raise $40,000 through their employee giving campaign, this year our patients and families holiday season will be a little bit brighter. Philanthropic support helps provide the supportive services and resources needed to guide people throughout their cancer journeys – from navigation, social work, and special needs funds to nutrition and psychosocial counseling, support groups, and education and outreach programs.

Thank you to our many generous supporters! And for those of you looking to make a meaningful gift this holiday, consider making a gift to support our patients and families in need by clicking here, and honor a special person in your life (we’ll send them a notice of your generosity).

From our family to yours, Happy Holidays!


Merle Krimsky
Catherine and Sam Sidewater
Judy Munroe and Steve Sidewater
The Sidewater Family Foundation

And to the many employees who participated in the CSL Behring giving campaign and helped select the Abramson Cancer Center as a destination for your generosity, thank you for your thoughtful giving!

About CSL Behring

CSL Behring is a leader in the plasma protein therapeutics industry. Committed to saving lives and improving the quality of life for people with rare and serious diseases, the company manufactures and markets a range of plasma-derived and recombinant therapies worldwide. CSL Behring therapies are used around the world to treat coagulation disorders including hemophilia and von Willebrand disease, primary immune deficiencies, hereditary angioedema and inherited respiratory disease, and neurological disorders in certain markets. The company’s products are also used in cardiac surgery, organ transplantation, burn treatment and to prevent hemolytic diseases in the newborn.

CSL Behring operates one of the world’s largest plasma collection networks, CSL Plasma. CSL Behring is a global biopharmaceutical company and a member of the CSL Group of companies. The parent company, CSL Limited (ASX:CSL), is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia. For more information, visit

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tour Scotland this Summer! Special Trip Created for Our 250th

Penn Alumni Travel has arranged a July 2-10, 2015, trip to Scotland. Among other activities, the tour will explore the Perelman School’s historic roots with University Archivist Mark Frazier Lloyd. For details, please visit the Penn Alumni Travel Page.

Fall 2014 Brings New Ways to Mark Distant and Quite Recent Past

As the mild summer began to wane, the Perelman School kicked off its 250th year with a 500-cupcake salute, announced a November celebration in DC and summer tour of Scotland, and picked the winner of the new Student Summer Photo Contest.

Birthday Party Makes the News

Local TV reporters were on hand to capture highlights from the September 8 cake-cutting celebration that kicked off the Perelman School of Medicine’s 250th year. Ray Perelman, the School’s largest benefactor, who, along with his late wife Ruth, pledged $225 million to the medical school in 2011, joined hundreds of faculty, staff, and students, for slices of three Penn-themed cakes and 500 cupcakes. Reports by NBC10 and 6ABC put the spotlight on America’s first medical school, and the festivities hosted by University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann, Dean J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, and Ralph W. Muller, CEO of the Penn Medicine Health System.

250th Road Show: Penn Medicine in DC

The 16th Administrator of USAID, alumnus Rajiv Shah, M’02, GRW’05, will be the featured local speaker at the Nov. 20 reception celebrating the 250th. Shortly after being sworn in on New Year’s Eve 2009, Dr. Shah led USAID’s response to the devastating 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Regional alumni leaders Lou Kozloff, C’65, M’69, and Martin Kanovsky, M’78, INT’79, RES’81, FEL’83, invite you to join them along with Dean J. Larry Jameson and Senior Vice Dean for Education Gail Morrison for the Thursday event, to be held in the Ronald Reagan Building of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“We have many alumni in the DC and Baltimore area – the NIH is there, too – and this is an ideal opportunity to let them know about cutting-edge changes to the curriculum and physical changes to the campus,” said Dr. Kanovsky. Added Dr. Kozloff, “I’m most proud not that we’re the oldest school but that we’re doing some of the newest, most innovative work, and we hope to get fellow alumni engaged and excited about our impressive progress along with the celebrations scheduled in May.”

For more information, email or call 215-898-8412

Celebrating the More Recent Past

What did you do during the summer break? Our students’ answers show that they continue to make the Perelman School a dynamic and influential place. Please go to our Facebook page to see the first Student Summer Photo Contest and enjoy some amazing vistas, near and far. Contest winner Prioty Islam, M'15, said, “I had high expectations for one of the seven natural wonders, and our excursion to Victoria Falls was my most anticipated trip while in Africa. Long after I could see the Falls, my ears were filled with its deafening roar. This is Victoria Fall’s native namesake – ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya,’ the Smoke that Thunders.”