The Perelman School of Medicine just celebrated its 250th anniversary as the first medical school in the country, and this esteemed institution is now an established destination for medical education and advances that benefit the entire nation’s public health and welfare.
From the legacy of the of the Philadelphia chromosome discovery to the development of the revolutionary chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) therapy, Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) continues this tradition of innovation in cancer research and care—by becoming the international epicenter for cancer immunotherapy.
When the history books are written, Philadelphia will be also be known as the birthplace of America’s freedom from the bonds of cancer.
As we celebrate liberty, independence, and hope this July 4th remember that it isn’t just our brilliant scientists who are behind the scientific discoveries needed to solve cancers most complex challenges. It is also our community of philanthropic partners who support innovation and our brave patients who participate in promising research that are moving the needle closer to a cancer-free world.
Here is one such family’s story:
Lori Alf: Mother, Entrepreneur, Cancer Survivor, and Penn Ambassador
The Alf Family
“I didn’t want to push my children away by shielding them from my experience. As a family, we leaned on and supported one another. Together we learned about the perseverance of the human spirit—and what a gift life is,” said Mrs. Alf.
A Family’s Love Inspires ActionDuring Mrs. Alf’s five years of various treatments, she endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy, blood transfusions, and a stem cell transplant. All to just keep the disease under control. She braved long, hard hospital stays that amounted to weeks and months away from home.
“While my life didn’t stop, I had to step out of it to managing my disease—which became a third full-time job on top of being a mother and running a successful business,” said Mrs. Alf.
When she was home she was afflicted with terrible side effects, and when she wasn’t able to take care of herself, her children and husband stepped up. They kept the family going, and kept Mrs. Alf fighting.
Mrs. Alf’s teenage daughter, Caterina, who is a competitive figure skater, took charge. She got herself to her morning training sessions and school, her two younger brothers Christer and Chapin, ages 14 and 11 respectively, to and from school and their activities, helped care for her mother, and made dinner almost every night—all the while never missing a beat with her own school work.
“I quickly learned that when faced with the pain and suffering of cancer, people become generous and caring. I saw this within the courteous, beautiful, and loving people that were my fellow patients and in the empathy and caring of my medical teams—but most importantly I found it in my own home and within my incredibly hard-working and compassionate children. This was the greatest gift my cancer gave us.”
The standard of care for multiple myeloma is treatment with a cocktail of chemotherapy, medications, blood transfusions, and stem cell transplants. The more medications that are given, the more compromised the immune system becomes, and the more challenging it is to function.
“It felt like being stuck in a maze. No matter where I turned I was met with more obstacles and felt like there was no way out,” Mrs. Alf explained. “This approach always seemed counterintuitive to me, and common sense made me ask why compromising my immune system would help me fight my disease.”
When first diagnosed, Mrs. Alf asked about immunotherapies. She was told that she would never see those options in her lifetime—the science just “wasn’t there.” But something within her knew that she would see it and that she would get there, it was just a matter of finding the right people at the right time.
Then, Mrs. Alf’s disease became refractory—she was no longer responding to her medications. She became incredibly ill, spending all of her time in bed sleeping.
“Finally, I could not take another day, another bag of chemotherapy, or another blood transfusion. My husband and I re-focused our research on immunotherapy options—which led us to Philadelphia and the Immunotherapy team at the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) of the University of Pennsylvania.”
Little did she know that she was about to become a part of cancer history, by becoming the first patient to be treated on a revolutionary new clinical trial using chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) therapy, for multiple myeloma.
Penn Medicine’s Hail Mary therapy“Penn became my saving grace—while I was fighting for my life for five years, the brilliant scientists here were continuing a 30-year fight to get the science of immunotherapy ‘there,’ for me and for all of us with cancer.”
From her first appointment at Penn, Mrs. Alf immediately felt she was in good hands.
“Dr. Stadtmauer and his team, that included medical oncologist Alfred Garfall, MD, knew the ins and outs of my medical history the way a parent knows their child’s. I have never experienced anything like it. I knew I meant something to my doctors, and that will be in my heart forever,” Mrs. Alf explained.
During her treatment at Penn, her kids stayed at home during the week, and then flew up to the City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love from South Florida on the weekends to be with her, bringing with them hope and happiness that her treatment may work. Mrs. Alf came through the experimental CAR treatment with encouraging results.
Celebrating a New Chapter in LifeMrs. Alf’s cancer journey has kindled an incredible passion for helping people that matches the passion pouring out of every doctor at Penn for their work. She has also become a generous philanthropic partner and unofficial ambassador of the Abramson Cancer Center.
“Together, my family and I are learning how to live again. And a big part of that is giving back,” said Mrs. Alf.
|Lori Alf, Summer 2015|
Mrs. Alf will be speaking to the pre-medicine department of her children’s school as a way to engage and excite the next generation of physician-scientists. The topic: T cell engineering and the future of cancer immunotherapy.
The school’s pre-medicine department is also organizing a fundraiser at Mrs. Alf’s ice skating rink that will benefit CAR therapy at Penn Medicine, with plans to take the event to a national scale.
But for now, Mrs. Alf is grateful for the opportunity and looking forward to experiencing another summer watching her children grow.
To support these efforts, please contact Katie Dewees Detzel at email@example.com or (215)746-1927.