When CJ Corneliussen-James retired from the Air Force in 2003 after 24 years she was a senior intelligence officer in the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office where she worked to resolve the casees of missing servicemen and women still unaccounted for from the Vietnam and first Gulf Wars.
A year later, Lt. Col. Corneliussen-James was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, which metastasized to her lung in 2006. After surgery that removed one lobe of her lung, CJ has been No Evidence of Disease (NED), but she knows it’s a matter of time before she will face cancer again.
When she discovered the existing arsenal against metastatic breast cancer (MBC) was significantly out of proportion to the loss of life, she took action. She went on the road with her message: 30% of women who are diagnosed with early stage breast cancer become metastatic, but only 2% of funds go to metastatic disease research.
To raise more funds for research, CJ and three friends from the metastatic support group she founded, created METAvivor in 2009. Since then the nonprofit with its volunteer board has raised and awarded more than $300,000 to researchers working on metastatic disease. In 2011 they began their 30% for 30% campaign — advocating that 30% of all cancer research funds and 30% of support activities be devoted to MBC research.
CJ is one of the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation advocates at this year’s SABCS meeting. She and METAvivor vice president Kelly Lange are eagerly following the research at SABCS hoping to see new approaches to MBC.
Lange was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in 1995 at age 32. By 2000 she had multiple regional lymph nodes involved and skin metastasis on her neck. Lange, a “super responder” to Herceptin and has watched as the drug has literally eliminated the skin metastases on her neck.
“We fund grants that will ultimately transition metastatic disease from a terminal illness to a controlled illness with a good quality of life,” CJ says. “We fund the start up ideas, the risky out-of-the-box ideas … the ones that could make a significant difference. These research proposals don’t stand a chance of geting picked up unless we do this.”
She says that although the trials funded thus far have yielded positive results, they aren’t afraid to fund trials that end up negative because that gets all the researchers off that track. The group works with a scientific advisory board of physicians and researchers and has become known as the only organization that exclusively funds metastatic research.
Lange says that since METAvivor is an all volunteer organization, they can put 100 % of fundraiser profit into research grants. “This allows us to maximize the amount of funds going into MBC research. We keep our organization afloat by applying for grants to sustain our operations.”
If you want to get CJ riled just tell her how much progress has been made, which is something she often hears.
“It’s just not true,” she says. “Women and men with metastatic disease are still dying in large numbers and we need to fund the research that can change that fact.”
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