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Women Leading in Central Mass.: Cancer Crusader Corrie Painter

Monday, April 15, 2013

 

Scientist, cancer survivor, wife, mother, and leader: Corrie Painter.

Corrie Painter is a perfect example of the saying, “Life happens when you are busy making other plans.” A PhD student at UMass Medical School in biochemistry and immunology, she was looking forward to a future of researching ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and enjoying life with her husband and two little girls.

Then in May 2010, her world was changed forever when she was diagnosed with primary angiosarcoma (AS) of the breast. This extremely rare and insidious disease affects only about 300 people a year worldwide with a dismal 5-year survival rate of 30%. Devastated by the grim diagnosis as well as a lack of information, research, or support for her disease, Painter began a journey that has become both a passion and a mission.

“I was a young, enthusiastic, and proactive scientist," Painter said. "To get such an unbelievably catastrophic diagnosis and then have no information to work with was unthinkable. I couldn’t live in a state of ignorance, so I just threw every ounce of my being into the fight against angiosarcoma. I was aware that this disease would probably take me out before my children had a chance to know me, so I tried to be a role model by living with strength and resilience. I wanted my dual focus of searching for a cure and living in the moment to be a lesson that they would remember.”

A new weapon to battle disease

Connecting with Lauren Ryan, an AS survivor who founded Angiosarcoma Awareness, gave Painter a new weapon with which to battle the disease that had invaded her body. Even as she was launching her personal quest for survival with a radical mastectomy and chemotherapy, Painter and her husband, Ted, joined Ryan to launch a fundraising campaign for clinical trials and further AS research. Beginning with the goal of raising $10,000 in the first year, they instead raised nearly $500,000. Research began soon after at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Painter’s personal battle was just as successful. An April 4th blog post of this year opened with the profoundly simple declaration, “Never Been Better.” Clear CT scans have enabled her to once again shake the hands of doctors as a scientist and not a patient. She is now a post-doctoral fellow working with cancer immunology in the lab of Craig Ceol, PhD. Painter is excited about the progress in the team’s work at the Department of Molecular Medicine at UMass Medical School and looking forward to revealing new ways to harness the immune system to fight cancer, but her battle with AS has just begun.

Volunteer leadership

She now serves in a volunteer capacity as VP and Chief Scientific Officer for Angiosarcoma Awareness. An online Facebook support group created by the organization gives those newly diagnosed with the disease hope and knowledge. Painter acts as patient advocate to people from around the globe on a weekly basis. As vice president, she keeps her finger on the pulse of AS research. She remains connected to the researchers while continuing to fundraise and secure grants in support of those making advances in the field.

On Saturday, May 4, 2013, just three years since her diagnosis, the third annual Angiosarcoma Awareness 5K Race and Walk will be held in Oxford, MA. “We recognize the fact that unless we create a patient driven initiative to fund angiosarcoma specific research, this rare cancer will never be the focus of large scale scientific endeavors that might shed light on its progression," Painter said. "We identify laboratories that are currently conducting research on angiosarcoma and raise funds to support and augment their work.” Angiosarcoma Awareness is currently funding a lab at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and has partnerships with labs at the University of Minnesota and at the MD Anderson Cancer Treatment Center at the University of Texas that have resulted in two ongoing clinical trials.

Angiosarcoma Awareness 5K Race + Walk

The 5K Race and Walk is not only a fundraiser but also a show of solidarity for survivors and a moving and emotional time for Painter. She has thankfully reached a stage that is called “no evidence of disease,” but she will never be considered in remission or cured. As long as she draws breath, Painter will remain in a leadership role in the battle against angiosarcoma. “I will continue to give 100% and do everything in my power," she said, "to raise awareness and research funds to combat and eradicate this disease.”

To learn more about angiosarcoma and how you can participate in the Angiosarcoma Awareness 5K Race and Walk on May 4th, visit www.cureasc.org.

Susan Wagner is the founder and president of Susan Wagner PR and director of corporate communications for Boston Web Designers. She specializes in strategic planning, public relations, writing services, website development, and community outreach. Her recent work has concentrated on helping new and emerging businesses to thrive. www.susanwagnerpr.com

 

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