Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Hosts a Patient Symposium Focusing on Melanoma of the Eye

Gregg Stracks and Sara Selig

Gregg Stracks and Sara Selig

Melanoma Research Foundation’s CURE OM to Host 1st Annual “Eyes on a Cure” Patient and Caregiver Symposium June 16 and 17

When the melanoma in Gregg Stracks’ eye spread to his liver in 2007, he and his wife, Sara Selig, turned to Jefferson medical oncologist Takami Sato, MD, PhD, one of the leading specialists in the disease.

Gregg had uveal melanoma, also known as ocular melanoma (OM), a cancer that is diagnosed in about 2,000 people a year in this country. Though rare, it is the most common eye cancer in adults. Like Gregg, about half of patients diagnosed with the disease have it spread to the liver.

While Gregg with Sara by his side fought the cancer, the couple quickly realized that the eye cancer did not have the same support as more well-known cancers. There was a dearth of scientific and treatment information, and lack of organization in the community of patients, families, physicians and researchers for OM.  Funding for research is minimal. And there were, and continues to be, no FDA-approved treatments for metastatic OM.

So, the Boston couple decided to try to change that, even as Gregg endured a tough battle against the disease.

“Our fight was focused on curing Gregg, but we also worked to bring attention—from the public and scientific community—to the disease, and help create a cohesive and collaborative community,” said Sara, who is also physician. “As we advocated for Gregg, we found we could lend that same voice to others in the OM community.”

Through the treatments to fight the tumor in his eye, and the myriad procedures to treat his liver metastasis, the husband and wife fought both his disease and the battle to draw more attention to this form of cancer.

Gregg died in January 2012. He had just turned 40.

“Although my heart is broken, I know we won so many battles in between his diagnosis and his passing; there is no doubt for me that there are many other battles we will win against this disease,” Sara says.

Together Gregg and Sara helped organize the first scientific meetings of researchers and physicians on the disease. And in the fall of 2011, they joined forces with the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) to create the Community United for Research and Education of Ocular Melanoma, or CURE OM.

“As part of MRF’s CURE OM initiative, I am proud to work with patients, the research community, committed volunteers, and families and friends of those fighting this disease to find new treatments, offer support and resources, and most of all, bring hope for a better future,” Sara says.

Serving as director of the CURE OM initiative, Sara is now helping spearhead the first “Eyes on a Cure: Patient and Caregiver Symposium” at Jefferson’s Kimmel Cancer Center (KCC), on June 16 and 17.

The symposium will bring patients, caregivers, and researchers from around the world together to offer educational sessions, support groups led by oncology social workers, sessions on complementary therapies, as well as informal time for networking.

Over 100 patients, along with their families, are expected to attend the event.

The Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson is a major center for the treatment of OM. Dr, Sato has seen more than 100 new patients with metastatic uveal melanoma every year since 1999.

David Eschelman, MD, and Carin F. Gonsalves, MD of the Division of Cardio-Interventional Radiology at Jefferson, have performed more than 300 embolization procedures for the liver metastases from uveal melanoma last year.

And the Jefferson team works closely with Jerry Shields, M., and Carol Shields, MD, of Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia, who see more than 500 patients with primary uveal melanoma every year.

All are scheduled to speak over the course of the two days.

“Not many patients know about the disease and many have struggled with finding an appropriate treatment,” says Dr. Sato. “This is an opportunity to educate, as well as provide patients with support from both social workers and doctors—and hopefully foster research collaborations and funding opportunities. We are very honored to be hosting it.”

Sara Selig, Timothy Turnham, Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Melanoma Research Foundation, Daniel Brown, MD, of the Department of Interventional Radiology, and Rani Anne, M.D., of the Department of Radiation Oncology will also speak.

To learn more about the CURE OM Conference at the Kimmel Cancer Center click here.

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