On October 10, 2020, the Cox family discovered that her beloved daughter Za’Miya was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, also known as DIPG, and their life changed forever. DIPG is a type of tumor that starts in the brain stem and progressively affects the nerves and muscles that allow us to see, hear, walk, talk, and even eat.

However, since day one, Za’Miya’s mother showed strength and love towards her daughter fighting against this terrible disease and supporting her every step. Due to the aggressiveness of the disease Za’Miya’s doctor told her family she only had from 6 months to 2 years to live. Her family and her strong faith helped them to survive these tough times.

In this, it is important to highlight that DIPG has a survival rate of less than 1%. This disease can also affect older teens and adults, but it is more common among children. The treatment includes palliative radiation, and the therapy remains almost the same since the 70s.

Unfortunately, on May 17th Za’Miya left us after a 10-month battle against cancer. As her mother mentioned in Za’Miya’s Instagram account, her daughter will be forever 10 years old. Her love and brightness will always be remembered and cherished by those who knew about her and her fight.

Faith and Love

Herein, Cancer is a complex disease that impacts every single member of a family group. However, it is important to have in mind that all the efforts and sacrifices must be aimed to ease the patient’s symptoms, so each treatment session also produces union and strength among relatives and not fear and anxiety.

Also, it is important to highlight that DIPG, like several other types of cancer, affects not only the body and mind of the patient but also their behavior, and as consequence, their interactions with the world. Therefore, parents need to deliver positive messages that stimulate their kids’ imagination and that safeguard their mental health.

Among the resources, we can mention books and music, as well as online programs, that aim to alleviate the children’s feelings and conflicted emotions by allowing them to interact with different scenarios where they become the main character of a story.

In summary, cancer is still a complex and emotionally taxing disease in which patients require all our love and constant dedication. Za’Miya’s mom taught us this incessantly, during those 10 months of treatment in which she lived what her little one did every day.

It is in these circumstances where we can see how love transcends life marking certain experiences as unique and perennial, a model in which to find inspiration to keep helping the most in need.

Finally, from Friends of Rick Daniels, we want to send a message to Za’Miya’s family from our platform. A thank you for teaching us strength and how the constant act of giving can restore our faith for the future; but also, a thank you to Za’Miya herself, for giving us that amazing joy for living and an irreplaceable smile.

 

By Eduardo Guillen

The story of Blake Payne is one full of love, hope, and courage. A life that ended far too soon, but that has taught us the meaning of real strength.

Blake Payne was the son of CNN correspondent Rene Marsh. Blake was a joyful two-year-old who passed on April 14 after battling pediatric brain cancer. In the words of his mother, Blake has taught her what is truly important and showed her how much strength she had stored in her heart.

A month before, Blake was reaching his second birthday together with Rene Marsh and her husband, Kedric Payne.

Motherly Love

During this time, Rene grew more than she could have ever imagined. The meaning each day had with Blake was full of lessons of love and compassion. A communion that is only reserved for those strong enough to fight against such a difficult disease.

Rene took this battle against cancer as a mission for the rest of her life. She has decided to do so as her tribute to Blake. Marsh also mentioned that she received news from doctors explaining that Blake’s cancer was in remission, but last November, it returned and spread.

It is important to highlight the fact that Rene, like many other mothers, had to emotionally experience her child’s illness too, so he could go through the treatment and care that cancer demands.

During those days, it is common for many parents to feel lost and confused. However, they know they are the light that needs to guide their children to safety, to normality. Beyond treatments and medicines that we all hope to make cancer disappear, there are also tons of love that are poured out by these parents.

It is important to highlight the fact that Rene, like many other mothers, had to emotionally experience her child’s illness too, so he could go through the treatment and care that cancer demands. 

Feelings and Imagination

Among these times, there are moments in which children might feel excluded as a result of trying to understand the reason behind the separation from their daily activities and interactions. It is in these moments that parents need to assist their children and teach them ways on how to manage anxiety, fear, guilt, depression, and anger.

These reactions change according to the age and condition of the child, and it gets more complex as they get older. There are, of course, psychological resources the parents can use, however, it is important these feelings be addressed, or they can evolve into disorders and depression. As Nancy Keene, Wendy Hobbie, and Kathy Ruccione describe in their book Childhood Cancer Survivors, “Suffering is diminished when it is shared.”

Books can help

One way of sharing these episodes and limitations caused by the illness is by revealing hopes and fears. In this field, we have access to several resources, and one of the most important is that of books. Books help children to release their imagination and escape from their physical limitations, taking them to different realities and situations.

It is in this reading dimension that we can explore new stories and be one with the characters, as well as their life and challenges.

Books to Face Difficulties and Seek Hope

These expressions are fundamental for children and their families. Parents need to not only be ready to assist their children with their doubts but also live with them in their challenges and expectations.

That is why it is not surprising that among Blake’s favorite activities, we can find books. The use of colors and joyful acts shone a new light over a landscape that perhaps, due to his illness, was turning grey in some aspects. Books, together with music, another great equalizer of experience, help parents and children get together in creating a stronger bond.    

It is in this scenario that Blake and Rene’s relationship teaches us how to approach this situation with bravery, by sharing and living every day at its fullest, with their minds aimed to comfort each other; showing to the world that love transcends and triumphs over every act and experience, even cancer.

 

By Eduardo Guillen

 

 

Rick Daniels image

Rick Daniels has accomplished several milestones during his life. Today, his struggles and constant desire for improvement have moved him to create a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children living with difficulties through educational services. Here he shares some highlights of a life set to give.

Rick Daniels grew up in a middle-class family home located in the city of Washington DC with his parents and three siblings. 

Growing Up

Days passed by and Rick wondered about the future and the opportunities ahead. At the same time, since an early age, Rick was attracted to fictional stories that helped him develop a creative imagination, as well as the mysterious ways in which words came to life while exploring colored tales. One of his favorite adventure stories as a kid was ‘The Call of the Wild’ by Jack London.

“Rick admired Buck’s (‘The Call of the Wild’ main character) strength, courage, and perseverance.”

However, not everything came easy for him. During Rick’s childhood, he faced many challenges in adapting to school because of his learning disability. He had trouble with reading and spelling due to lead poisoning, which led him to repeat the 4th and 6th grades, eventually provoking his expulsion from school in the 10th grade. Nevertheless, despite all the difficulties, Rick kept fighting until he reached his first milestone: getting his general educational development certificate.  

Furthermore, his conviction to overcome obstacles took him to set up his own barbershop at the young age of 10 years old, in the basement of his house. Rick remembers: “I charged my fellow peers for a haircut and a movie.” Rick also comments that he worked in several jobs where he achieved recognition for his constant improvement and the results delivered. When he distributed newspapers as a paperboy, he received many compliments for delivering them at the front door with care and on time. 

 

Rick Daniels takes New York

Years went by, and at 18 y/o, Rick moved to New York and attended the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). He decided to start his own fashion company: ‘Foxey World Shirts’. While studying, Rick met Gail Foxey. Two years later they got married and thanks to the success of the company, they eventually moved their showroom to the Empire State building. Their first office was a loft at 147, W40 St. 

During his time as an entrepreneur, Rick and his wife created amazing designs for common folks and celebrities such as Doc Severinsen, bandleader for the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, the rock star Jimmy Hendrix, The Deftonics, Isaac Hayes, and many more.

Rick and Gail’s pieces were so popular that they were shown in popular magazines such as CQ, Vanity Fair, Essence, Ebony, and the New York Times, making Rick one of the top black designers in the 1970s.

New Challenges, New Milestones.

After many triumphs, Rick came to a turning point in his life. He was diagnosed with a rare type of blood cancer called Polycythemia Vera and began treatment to fight the illness. 

Rick mentioned that it was a few years later, after battling bullying in his life in 2014, that he decided to turn his experiences into a mission to depict the struggles and mixed feelings of a victim of mistreatment. Rick decided to go forward with a plan and created his nonprofit aimed to assist children: ‘Friends of Rick Daniels.’

Since that day, Rick Daniels turned his life into stories so children could interact and read at any time. In this way, Rick shows the youth that they are not alone and that they can find hope and smiles even during the darkest times.

Rick finalizes sharing that last year, he decided to reach out to children with cancer because he first hand understands the battle they are facing and he wishes to bring them joy through colorful stories and happy endings.

“There are definitely more stories to come,” adds Rick, while he goes back to his desk to create another magical adventure.

 

By: Eduardo Guillen

The fight against cancer continues, and recent discoveries get us closer to finding a final cure for this challenging disease. Among these, we can name two current studies that shed light on approaching cancer and its reaction to specific protein synthesis.

The first study includes The Cardiff University, located in Wales, which discovered a method to eliminate cancer cells using our immune system. This work in progress recognizes and eliminates most cancer types through a class I-related protein (MR1) while leaving other healthy cells intact.

T cell

The use of T-cells to combat cancer has a long story. One of these uses is the medicine called CAR-T (Chimeric Antigen Receptor).

In other words, scientists claimed that a T-cell, a white blood cell that protects our body from external agents (antigens), can also be used to eliminate cancer cells by attacking tumors, which means there is a possibility that a T-cell might eliminate a wide range of cancers, something believed to be unfeasible.

The still ongoing study has shown that this T-cell interacting with the MR1 molecule, which is located all over the human body, and cancers are not the exception, could spot the affected cell and destroy it.

Heading

A Hopeful History Combating Cancer

 

The use of T-cells to combat cancer has a long story. For example, a medicine called CAR-T (Chimeric Antigen Receptor), which uses the patient’s T-cells, is designed to send an immune response against cells that show a particular antigen. Nevertheless, this treatment is reserved as a single dose, and it could also carry secondary symptoms which is why it requires an extensive follow-up.

Regardless of its risks, CAR-T has shown positive results being able to produce a complete remission. However, this treatment can only be used for blood cancers such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia and advanced lymphomas.

In the investigation conducted by Cardiff University, T-cells can also eliminate solid tumors, which will reveal a general treatment to eliminate all types of cancer.

The discovery is, without a doubt, revealing because through this ‘key’ the lymphocyte flags the malignant unit and proceeds to combat it.

There is still work to do to find a solution to solid tumors (sarcomas and carcinomas), such as the ones that occur in bones, muscles, and organs.

In the investigation conducted by Cardiff University, T-cells can also eliminate solid tumors, which will reveal a general treatment to eliminate all types of cancer.

Another type of therapy used to combat cancer is TIL (Tumor-infiltrating Lymphocytes). These T-cells are located inside the tumor. Once these have been collected, an examination is performed to find which cells recognize the tumor faster. These units are then enriched to increase their number, rapidly destroying the tumor and blocking its signals to the immune system

 Furthermore, this is also important to highlight that T-cell therapy has side effects. The occurrence and number of side effects are still unclear. A negative result can include an excessive release of cytokine, which triggers fever, nausea, headaches, and blood pressure changes. In more complex cases, a TIL therapy can cause leak syndrome, which may lead to multiple organ failure and shock. 

How Does it Work?

 

As described above, in the discovery, the T-cell interacts with a molecule called MR-1 located in every single cell of the human body, including cancer cells. The discovery is, without a doubt, revealing because through this ‘key’ the lymphocyte flags the malignant unit and proceeds to combat it.

The projected therapy for this new treatment begins with collecting the T-cells. Then these cells are genetically modified by using an RNA chain inserted with a harmless virus. At this point, the cell is ready to recognize cancer cells.

The T-cell locates the cancer cell and attacks it.

The projected therapy for this new treatment begins with collecting the T-cells. Then these cells are genetically modified by using an RNA chain inserted with a harmless virus. At this point, the cell is ready to recognize cancer cells.

Next, the modified cells are duplicated in a laboratory. The modified cells are injected back into the patient. The new treatment with the MR-1 molecule has been used only in animals, and there is still a long road ahead of testing before human trials.  

These results are also fascinating because the T-cell has eliminated the cancer cells leaving the rest of the healthy tissue unaffected.

 

New Alternatives to Combat Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

 

The second discovery to fight cancer involves a potential solution among the most common cancers that affect children called acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Recently, a team of researchers made discoveries that could improve this disease treatment and open a way to create new therapies.

 

This proliferation of white blood cells contains a genetic problem that includes the protein MEF2D and four other factors that control gene activity. This activity involves their interaction and why the factors are triggered.

On this subject, it is essential to highlight that acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) generates recurrent chromosomal rearrangements that result in chimeric fusion proteins that eventually drive to tumor formation.

This study involves Aichi Medical University, Nagoya University, and the National Hospital Organization Nagoya Medical Center.

The solution contemplates the dynamics of how proteins work and their behavior. In this case, acute lymphoblastic leukemia involves the abnormal propagation of lymphocytes (white blood cells).

  • Enlarged lymph, liver, or spleen nodes
  • Pain below the rib cage
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of weight
  • Pale skin
  • Other symptoms

 

The investigation focuses on blocking these signals (as if we were talking about a communication process) from the proteins, thereby stopping the white cells from proliferating. The result also means that once the investigations are conclusive, it will be possible to create a therapy that produces the same result.

 

By: Eduardo Guillen