JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Donella Wilson, right, from the American Cancer Society, is reflected in glass as Dr. Michele Carbone takes a look under the microscope at the John A. Burns School of Medicine in Kakaako. Wilson spoke last month at the American Cancer Society Hawaii Pacific's celebration commemorating 60 years of fighting cancer in the state.
More Hawaii researchers are urged to apply for grants
Donella Wilson came to Hawaii from the American Cancer Society to deliver a message: "We can do something to control cancer right now, here in Hawaii."
She said the ACS research program needs support -- with 60 cents of every dollar contributed staying in Hawaii -- and she wants to see more grant applications from Hawaii researchers.
60 years of fighting cancer
Among highlights of the American Cancer Society's 60 years in Hawaii:
» 1948: The late Alexander "Pug" Atherton was the first president of the Hawaii Cancer Society when it began in 1948 to eliminate cancer as a major health problem. His wife, LeBurta Atherton, was honorary chairwoman and has supported the society for six decades. Other honorary chairmen have included U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, 1960; Dr. Reginald C.S. Ho, 1964; Indru Watumull, 1995; and James Schuler, 2000.
» 1959: Hawaii was chartered by the national cancer society and incorporated as the American Cancer Society. The American Cancer Society was founded in 1913 with headquarters in Atlanta and has 13 regional divisions and offices in 3,400 communities.
» 1969: The ACS Reach to Recovery program was launched to give help and a home to women with breast cancer.
» 1982: More than 500 volunteers were trained in Hawaii and Guam to recruit 5,000 participants for a national ACS Cancer Prevention Study, the first major research effort to learn how lifestyle and environmental factors influence cancer and other diseases.
» 1985: The first summer camp for children with cancer was held in August 1985 at Camp Mokuleia, later renamed Camp Anuenue.
» 1992: The first Relay for Life event in Hawaii was held on Maui.
» 1994: Purchase of property at 2370 Nuuanu Ave. was approved for the American Cancer Society Hawaii Pacific Inc. headquarters.
» 2006: Hawaii became the 14th state to pass a smoke-free workplace law. It took effect Nov. 16 of that year on the 30th anniversary of the ACS' Great American Smokeout.
For more information about Hawaii's cancer society and its research, education, advocacy and service programs, call toll-free (800) ACS-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.
Wilson, director of research promotion and communication for the nation's largest volunteer health organization, met with officials and researchers from the University of Hawaii, Cancer Research Center, John A. Burns School of Medicine and other nonprofit institutions to encourage grant requests.
In an interview before returning to the mainland recently, she said, "I love talking to the general public. They have a lot of myths and urban legends that need to be debunked. One is that cancer is a death sentence."
Wilson joined the American Cancer Society Hawaii Pacific in a 60th-anniversary dinner last month.
Jackie Young, a cancer survivor and a Hawaii Cancer Society officer, said the dinner at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel was "a celebration of how far we've come in building awareness of cancer in the state of Hawaii and empowering people who live with cancer to maintain the highest possible quality of life."
One of the speakers was Dr. Michele Carbone, director of thoracic oncology at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii and Pathology Department chairman at the medical school.
He received more than $1 million from the American Cancer Society when he began doing research, which he said kicked off his career as a leading investigator of mesothelioma, a deadly cancer associated with asbestos exposure. His team now has more than half of all federal funding for research on mesothelioma and asbestos.
The national society has funded more than $3.1 billion in cancer research since 1946, with 42 recipients winning the Nobel Prize. More than $120 million was awarded last year to beginning researchers, said Wilson, a molecular biologist.
She said the Cancer Society has funded 42 grants here totaling $4.2 million since the program began. However, there are no Hawaii grant recipients now, and she wants to see that change.
Scholarships are available for nursing and social workers, as well as research money for beginning investigators and grants for research involving poor and underserved populations, she said.
She said one of the major challenges of cancer is that "it's hundreds of diseases ... and each of those diseases has genetic components."
Thus, "everybody's cancer is different," and a treatment that works for one might not work for another, she pointed out.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States and the No. 1 cause of death for native Hawaiian women, she said.
"A lot of progress has been made with breast cancer, but if we can't get people to participate in the process, cancer rates will remain the same," she said, referring to the failure of many women to have yearly mammograms and "do something about a diagnosis -- treatment needs to begin."