My name is Santiago, I am a former competitive swimmer, which honestly seems like a lifetime ago. I am an Assistant Professor at VCU-Biology, and I am a member of the VCU Massey Cancer Center. At VCU, I teach Cancer Biology to undergraduates, and I have an active cancer research program.
As for many others, cancer has become an integral part of my life, and every day is a new learning experience, both personally and professionally. My personal connection is very close to home. In March of 2017, my beautiful wife Amanda was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. However, we are fortunate to have an amazing medical team at Massey, who have treated her with immunotherapy, and every other new drug combination available, surgery, radiation, and even probiotics. Her medical team is led by a talented oncologist at Massey who was using the latest advances in melanoma research to tailor treatments and try and get the best results for her. This unfortunately happened in the backdrop of grim statistics for patients with stage IV melanoma, who, prior to immunotherapy, had poor chances of surviving past even one year. Just a couple of years ago the drugs she was treated with were not available, and still are not available in other countries. We believe she was lucky to have been treated at a place like Massey, which is at the forefront of the fundamental research and clinical trials that make new therapies possible. It is the development of new treatments that is now changing those grim stats. She is proof of this, Amanda has been in remission for a little over a year now. We are thrilled and strongly believe that it is that fundamental research, and a doctor that used that research knowledge, that have saved her life. But the chance of recurrence in melanoma is high. At some point in the future, whether its 6 months or 6 years from now, it is likely Amanda will find herself again faced with battling cancer.
We are hoping that, with more research efforts and development of new drugs, the next line of treatments she needs will be available. Unfortunately, my professional connection grants me insider knowledge of just how painstaking, and expensive, the research side of the battle against cancer truly is. In the lab, progress is measured in years, if not decades, and for those not involved in cancer research, it requires an almost unimaginable amount of resources, human effort, and funds. For example, it was in the early 1990’s when Dr. Allison made his first discovery that lead to modern immunotherapies, which have revolutionized treatment of melanoma, and now many other cancers. It literally has taken countless research labs over 20 years, with thousands of researchers, and millions and millions of dollars after that first discovery to develop immunotherapy into a standard treatment for someone like Amanda. So when you hear that fundraising campaigns say “every donated research dollar can make a difference”, it is not a slogan, it is a reality. Millions and millions of dollars are spent to make small advances, and it takes many, many, many small advances to develop one single, modern, effective anti-cancer therapy used in clinics like the Massey Cancer Center today.
For this event, we are here to ask everyone to help raise money for cancer research, Amanda is living proof of how this can make a real difference to people.
You can make a credit card donation to me on this site, or send a check (mention my name) made out to:
Swim Across America – Richmond
4161 Traylor Drive, Richmond, VA 23235