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Cancer study hopes to increase prevention

By Taya Flores � tflores@journalandcourier.com � JUNE 3, 2008

The 57-year-old Diana "Sue" Leslie has had radiation treatments, chemotherapy and four brain surgeries to stop her tumor from spreading.

But the glioblastoma multiforme is an aggressive type of brain cancer and it started growing again last November -- months away from Sue's 10-year survival anniversary in May.

"Her courage and attitude overall has been awesome," said Jim Leslie, Sue's husband. "She's been an encouragement and inspiration to others."

To better understand how to prevent cancers that devastate the lives of many like Sue and Jim, the American Cancer Society's Department of Epidemiology and Surveillance Research is recruiting 500,000 adults across the country and Puerto Rico for its Cancer Prevention Study-3 (CPS-3). The nonprofit organization will enroll eligible participants at its signature fundraising event, Relay For Life of Tippecanoe on June 27.

Once enrolled, participants will fill out surveys every other year for at least 20 years. Researchers will look at the lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors that cause or prevent cancer.

"We are looking for the opportunity to change the face of cancer -- that way we don't have to tell our children to be afraid of cancer," said Leisha Hill, CPS-3 chairwoman for the American Cancer Society. "The c-word is scary to everyone."

The American Cancer Society has done follow-up studies since the 1950s. The studies have led to findings that show the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, the link between aspirin use and lower risk of colon cancer and the impact of air pollution on heart and lung conditions among other findings.

Brandi Steward found out she had cancer five days before she graduated from Purdue University. She was diagnosed with malignant fibrous histiocytoma, a tumor in her knee, in December 2006.

"I don't think anyone is prepared for cancer, certainly not when you are 23 and healthy otherwise," the now 24-year-old community program coordinator said.

She said the study is important because it's the next step in cancer research.

"We are hoping that with this research, we will know specifically what causes cancer," she said. "We already know so much about cancer, but we need to know more."

West Lafayette resident Dave Bromer, has lost three family members to cancer in the last eight years -- his father, aunt and uncle.

He plans to participate in the study as his way to fight back.

"If you lose a family member to cancer there is this hopeless feeling," said the 47-year-old. "You feel powerless, there is not much you can do as they fight the battle. This is my way of being proactive."

He thinks people should participate in the study because it's an easy, quick way to help in the fight against cancer.

"I think by now it has affected everyone in one way or another," he said.

Sue was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a common and malignant brain cancer that easily spreads to adjacent areas of the brain making it difficult to treat, in May 1998.

Dr. Jeff Crecelius, a neurosurgeon with Clarian Arnett Health, said the cancer is usually treated with a combination of surgery (if the location is where it can be removed without risking damage to the brain) chemotherapy and radiation.

The majority of patients diagnosed with it live two years or less.

Crecelius said he's seen only about three people within his practice survive 7 to 10 years.

For a while Sue was symptom free, but now the loss of speech, loss of balance, double vision and fatigue have returned.

When asked what she thinks about the study she said, "Well..." then stopped talking.

"She understands, but can't relate back to you," Jim said.

Sue dozed in and out, her eyes slowly closing most of the time. She sat peacefully on the sofa with her tiny Yorkshire terrier named Nikki on her lap.

Jim got the dog to make Sue happy. He sometimes plays a video of their five-year life celebration party where Sue was walking around and mingling, in hopes of having her smile or perhaps talk.

Before the cancer, Sue always had a smile for everyone, never had a bad word to say about anyone and loved everyone around her, Jim said.

"Make every day special," is what one of the brain surgeons told him and that is what he tries to do.

Jim hopes this study will further efforts to help researchers find a cure for cancer.

"I think it's beneficial to everyone in the country," Jim said. "It's very worthwhile. Any research like that. Everyone dreams that they will find a cure for cancer."