At the start of 2010, I was as busy as ever. Raising our two year old Ruby and working away at DreamWorks Animation. I was happy to have made the transition from Head of Production to producer, and was thrilled to be in pre-production, working with an incredibly talented group of people on Rise of the Guardians. I was even happy to help the studio by producing the conversion of the first three Shrek movies to 3-D; it was an opportunity to do something new, forge new friendships, and continue to learn. In August, Ruby turned 3, in September we delivered the Shrek movies and I turned 50. In October, on a trip to Mexico I started feeling ill, in November I went for a physical and other than some higher than normal cholesterol, and the expected wear and tear of an overachieving, neurotic 50 year old woman, all seemed okay and I scheduled a colonoscopy for after the holiday season. In February of 2011, after a host of doctor appointments, tests etc., I was diagnosed with Stage 3b Colorectal Cancer. I had a 5cm tumor that doctors thought could have been growing for 5 years. There is no history of Colorectal Cancer or any other cancer in my family. Completely in denial about the magnitude of the diagnosis, I assured my dear friend and boss Bill Damaschke, that I would have this sorted out and wrapped up within the week. Well, needless to say although I remained optimistic, the schedule changed substantially. With the help of the ever resourceful Jeffrey Katzenberg, we settled in with an incredible team of doctors based at Cedar Sinai and began the 10 month fight to become Cancer free.
As most of you know, I love figuring out a schedule, and creating milestones. There is little that cannot be done if you prep it properly. My ultimate goal was to have this cancer thing wrapped up and finished before the 2011 holiday season began. And so the plan was set into action, in March of 2011 I started oral chemotherapy treatment and radiation therapy 5 days a week for 6 weeks. After a month of recovery, I went for surgery to remove what was left of the tumor and whilst in there they removed some additional damaged, non-working or no longer vital organs. The outcome of the surgery was physically and emotionally damaging. My body and way of life would never be the same, but I was alive and it looked like I was cancer free. I was two thirds of the way thru the overall schedule, and on my way to putting this craziness behind me. With the love and support from Cheryl and Ruby, and the help of my “healing pod” of friends and co-workers, I recovered in about three weeks, and went back to work before starting the final phase of my schedule. This was a pretty strong chemo infusion cocktail that produced loads of fun side effects. I made it thru 7 of the 9 treatments, went thru the scans and at the start of November, was told I was “Cancer Free.” I was in remission; music to my ears. The truth is, I never thought there was a chance that I would be anything but cancer free. We celebrated, had a wonderful holiday season, and we looked forward to the healthy year ahead.
One year to the date that I was diagnosed with Stage 3b Colorectal Cancer, my check-up scans revealed 7 new tumors in my lungs, just three months after I was told I was “cancer free." Still hopeful and certain this was a mistake, scar tissue, a virus, something other than cancer, I went thru a needle biopsy. Unfortunately, my cancer was back, it had metastasized to my lungs. Because I had never considered the possibility that the cancer would come back, I had no idea what this meant. I had never researched what it means if the cancer comes back, so it was a complete surprise to me when I learned that I now had Stage IV Metastatic Colorectal Cancer. Ok, I thought, what does that mean, what do I do now? I quickly realized, there is no cure, there is little to do. The average life expectancy for Stage IV Colorectal Cancer is 2 years. I would have to figure out how to prove I am not average and extend that life expectancy. I would have to learn how to live with cancer so I did not die from it, I would have to learn a new normal.
This news was devastating. I had no idea what to do next, except panic, so I did. Then, my oncologist strongly suggested that I move to a doctor and hospital that is focused on Colorectal Cancer Research. So that is where I am today. I am incredibly lucky to be a patient of USC Norris Cancer Hospital under the care of Dr. Heinz-Josef Lenz. He is not only an incredibly brilliant doctor and research scientist in this field, he is a compassionate human being. Dr. Lenz is completely dedicated to increasing the life expectancy of Stage IV Colorectal Cancer patients and finding a cure, and I am completely dedicated to ensuring his success. I intend to live.
After the initial shock cleared, the panic eased a bit, and the chemo started all over again, I decided that I needed to help raise funds and awareness for Colorectal Cancer. I reached out to family and friends for council on fundraising in general. Without hesitation, everybody I asked said the same thing, “know where the money is going.” I then asked Dr. Lenz, where the money should go? Which charity supports the research that he is doing and wants to do? He quickly answered that “I should give him the money”. Of course, I laughed and said no, seriously, but he was totally serious. Just then it became clear, for the first time in my life, I would be totally selfish. I would raise money directly for research at USC Norris that would be led by Dr. Lenz for the benefit of Stage IV Colorectal Cancer Patients, just like me.
With the help and support of DreamWorks Animation SKG, we plan to raise specific targeted amounts of money for specific research programs that need funding, under the direction of Dr. Lenz at USC Norris.
The first program that needs funding is to further research the efficacy of the colon cancer drug Avastin. Dr. Lenz developed a unique model at USC Norris that he would use to further understand why patients become resistant to the drug, and consequently, why the cancer spreads. Dr. Lenz’ group has identified novel molecular markers predicting the efficacy of Avastin. This model can test Avastin along with molecular evaluation of the tumor cells. In addition, his group is testing whether the drug Dr. Lenz PRI 724 will enhance the efficacy of Avastin to design an entire new generation of clinical trials, having even more impact and efficiency in treating and curing colon cancer. We need $200,000 to begin the research. All the money will go directly to the research. I will update you all on the progress of the research, and I am sure I will seek additional funds as time goes by so that Dr. Lenz and his team can continue to research, and find the cure.
So, I’m Asking...This is a “Call to Cure”
Over the last two years, we have experienced the most amazing outpouring of love and support from our personal friends and family, as well as my amazing family at DreamWorks Animation. Everybody has asked, “What can I do to help, what do you need”. Most of you know it is hard for me to ask for help, the truth is I didn’t even know what to ask for, but now I know. So, I’m asking, please help to fund research for Colorectal Cancer; the least funded of all Cancer Charities. Help raise awareness of Colorectal Cancer; otherwise known as the silent killer because colonoscopy screenings are not covered under insurance until you reach 50, and therefore it is routinely diagnosed too late. Help extend the average life expectancy of Stage IV Colorectal Cancer patients; like me. Help find a cure. Please help me raise money, give to the Nancy Bernstein Research Program, at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center to support the work of Dr. Heinz-Josef Lenz. You will be helping me and many others just like me, I promise. This is a “Call to Cure.”