A Day of Hope for Maine's cancer fighters

JAX’s MCGI participates in annual Day of Hope event with MaineGeneral Health in Augusta, Maine. JAX’s MCGI participates in annual Day of Hope event with MaineGeneral Health in Augusta, Maine.

In early October, over 1,000 people attended MaineGeneral’s annual Day of Hope event at the Augusta Civic Center including the eight team members who make up The Jackson Laboratory’s Maine Cancer Genomics Initiative (MCGI).

MaineGeneral’s Day of Hope brings the Maine cancer community together for an inspirational ceremony honoring those living with cancer, their family members, those who have passed and the people who support the cancer community through care and research. The event features a walk, health screenings, cancer and prevention education and integrative therapy sessions – all while raising funds for the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care (HACCC), which provides local cancer care for 12% of Maine’s cancer patients, and serves as the home office for the MCGI team.

Founded in 2016, MCGI is an alliance of Maine oncology providers led by The Jackson Laboratory with funding from the Harold Alfond Foundation. Its primary goal is to reduce disparities in access to advanced technologies for cancer care and precision medicine. As a resource to the Maine cancer community, the MCGI team proudly participates in the Day of Hope event each year.

“JAX created the Maine Cancer Genomics Initiative to make a difference in cancer patients’ care in Maine,” said Jens Rueter, M.D., JAX chief medical officer and MCGI medical director. “Our team was excited to participate in MaineGeneral’s Day of Hope and connect with many members of the community including patients, survivors and their loved ones.”

Personalized medicine – the next generation of cancer care

The event included talks from patients, caregivers and resource providers such as MCGI. Lindsey Kelley, MS, CGC the genomic navigator for MCGI, presented on the next generation of cancer care: personalized medicine. This trending topic within oncology, sometimes known as precision oncology or genomic profiling, is the idea that each cancer is genetically unique; therefore the treatment that works well for one person may not help another person at all. Personalized medicine uses genomic information – obtained from a genomic tumor test – from someone’s tumor to help identify what would be the best treatment for that individual.

Kelley explained, “Genomic tumor testing will take a sample of a tumor and analyze the genes within it to look for variants, or genes that are not working properly. This is done so that hopefully there could be a targeted treatment aimed at that specific gene that is causing or driving the cancer.”

Providing this presentation, which can be viewed online, is just one way that MCGI expands the understanding of personalized medicine throughout Maine. Kelley addressed questions from the audience and the MCGI team was available throughout the day to provide additional information for attendees.

“MCGI is committed to ensuring that patients in Maine have the same access and understanding about personalized medicine as patients who might live in Boston or larger cities,” said Kelley.

A heart for making change

In addition to the education provided throughout the day, MCGI was honored to participate in the Walk for Hope as members of the “Alfond Angels” team. The Walk for Hope is a 1.8 mile community walk component of the Day of Hope events that allows attendees to support cancer survivors and honor loved ones who have had cancer. To address the fact that some MaineGeneral staff are unable to participate in the large community walk due to staffing education tables during the Day of Hope, the Alfond Angels team was established to allow more employees to walk in honor of the cancer community.

“The immense turnout at the event was a reminder of the far reaches and deep impacts that cancer has on the people of Maine,” said Susan Halverson, genomic tumor board coordinator with MCGI. “I was grateful for the opportunity to spend time with these brave people who came to inspire, learn and tap into the resources offered by the Maine oncology community.”

Members of Alfond Angels commit to walk 40 hours daily in the Center’s Healing Garden the week before Day of Hope. Team members sign up for 15-minute internal shifts to carry a baton containing the first names of all the patients ever treated at HACCC, as well as the names of someone that an Alfond Angel cares about who had cancer but was not treated at HACCC. This year the eight-person team walked together for their 15-minute leg in honor of those who have been treated at the Center. In addition, team member Jennifer Bourne, MCGI program manager, walked additional shifts on three other days, one dedicated to each of her three family members who died of cancer.

“We’re honored and privileged to have JAX’s MCGI team as extended family members of the Harold Alfond Cancer Center here in Augusta,” said Debbie Bowden, MSN administrative director for the Harold Alfond Cancer Center. “They are amazing people with a heart for making change and so we gladly have them on our Alfond Angels team each year.”

The MCGI team is proud to address the needs of the Maine oncology community and beyond, and provides education and resources regularly. For more information about MCGI and for additional resources on personalized medicine, genomic tumor testing, clinician education and more, please visit www.jax.org/mcgi.