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The N.C. Children’s Hospital was bustling on Thursday, March 15, as physicians, hospital staff and donors filled the lobby during the Wall of Honor Event.

With smiles on their faces, Matt and Tiana Ayotte made their way through the crowd, talking with others in attendance, waiting to be recognized for their generous donations to the N.C. Children’s Hospital through the N.C. Children’s Promise.

Through the N.C. Children’s Promise, the couple has raised more than $25,000.

Want to donate to the N.C. Children’s Promise?

The N.C. Children’s Promise is the fundraising arm of North Carolina Children’s Hospital. Gifts help:

  • Provide advanced comprehensive care to children from all 100 counties in North Carolina, regardless of a family’s ability to pay
  • Maintain a family-focused, child-friendly environment, while providing state-of-the-art care for children
  • Continue cutting-edge research that assures new discoveries for treating childhood diseases.

Click here to learn more and donate

SOURCE: N.C. Children’s Hospital

Yet, there is more to their story than their fundraising efforts; the hospital holds a special place in the their hearts.

In 2002, the couple’s daughter, Asheton, was born at 23 weeks and spent the first 107 days of her life in the Newborn Critical Care Center at the N.C. Children’s Hospital.

At one pound, five ounces, Asheton was one of the first occupants of the NCCC, a unit made possible by donations.

Today, thanks to the NCCC, Asheton is a healthy 10 year-old.

“We wouldn’t have had the same outcome anywhere else,” Matt said.

The Ayotte’s work to increase public awareness in pediatric care and research by volunteering on the Board of Visitors for the Children’s Promise.

Because 6 percent of the hospital’s budget comes from the state, it relies on donations for much of its success.

The N.C. Children’s promise began as the vision of Phil Zachary, president and COO of Curtis Media Group, and Don Curtis, owner of CMG and current member of UNC’s Board of Trustees. The pair first hosted a radio-thon in 2002, raising $183,253 for the hospital.

Now, N.C. Children’s Promise is a year-round operation, working to improve the lives of children and families who visit the hospital.

Children’s Promise donors who’ve given more than $25,000 are recognized on the Wall of Honor, located in the lobby of the Children’s Hospital, with colorful plaques bearing their names. The wall was recently moved in order to provide space for new donors.

Crystal Hinson Miller, vice president for children’s programs, opened the reception by discussing the relocation of the wall.

“We have come into a good problem,” Miller said. “We have run out of space on the wall, so we have moved it to provide space for more families, friends, corporations, individuals and foundations that support us.”

Following Miller’s introduction, Dr. Wesley Burks, director of pediatrics at the N.C. Children’s Hospital, commended the donors for their generosity.

“Our goal at the hospital is to provide care for every child in the state of North Carolina as needed,” Burks said. “You all play a big part in making a difference.”

Donations made to the fund provide for research initiatives, training and education programs and family centered care. Burks said research is one of the key aspects to the treatment of individuals.

“We want to participate and lead the edge in research because in research, you make local children better, faster,” he said. “If you do it here, the healthcare of that child changes tomorrow or next week.”

Any contribution to the N.C. Children’s Hospital is beneficial, the donors noted.

This past October, Asheton Ayotte raised $460 by asking her neighbors to donate the amount they would spend on Halloween candy to the hospital. This money allowed her to buy a surgical wagon for the PICU.

For the Ayotte family, their first visits to the hospital with their infant daughter have come full circle. They said they’re thrilled to help children at the same hospital where their daughter received treatment 10 years ago. The Children’s Promise plays a central role in their lives, they said.

“It is certainly an honor to be recognized, but it seems a little inverted,” said Matt. “It’s a little ironic that they are thanking us when everyday we thank them for being here.”

This article was written for the JOMC 253 Reporting class at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Johnson and Amy noticed their toddler, Alyssa, was limping during her second birthday party at their home just outside of Dunn, N.C. Later, they found she was running a fever. They agreed with the pediatrician that it was likely only a virus, and when the symptoms disappeared a day or two later, they stopped worrying.

“Then all of a sudden it came back a few weeks later,” Amy said. “She couldn’t even put weight on her legs.”

The couple took Alyssa back to the pediatrician, and within 24 hours the family was at UNC Hospitals, but all the doctors could find was that she was severely anemic – until they finally resorted to a bone marrow biopsy.

“The second time we went to the local doctor, the pediatrician had said, ‘I don’t want to scare you but she does have some signs that point towards leukemia,'” Amy said. “I didn’t think twice about it. I just knew she didn’t have it. I still didn’t think she had it until I saw the doctor’s face that day at UNC. When he walked in… when he walked in I knew she had it.”

Alyssa was diagnosed with leukemia on Oct. 5, 2011.

Fortunately, because doctors caught the disease so early, Alyssa has a 90 percent chance of survival. However, each visit to UNC Hospitals, which are sometimes weekly for treatment, requires both of her parents to take a day off of work. With the drive, each appointment is an eight- to nine-hour ordeal, Johnson said, though all things considered, that’s a small price to pay.

“With something like that, a life-threatening disease,” Johnson said, pausing. “Well, it makes you step back and re-prioritize different aspects of your life. Maybe some things get shuffled down that you thought were important.”

The couple said they’ve learned to allow themselves to depend on other people, particularly their parents. Johnson said both sets of Alyssa’s grandparents live within 10 minutes, and that has made all the difference.

“We’re so blessed to have our parents close by,” he said. “We’re not toting the burden by ourselves.”

Despite her weakened immune system, Alyssa, now 2 and a half years old, has a big personality. Like her mother did as a child, Alyssa participates in local pageants. Not the glitzy ones, Amy explained – no make-up or glitter for her little girl – just Easter dresses and that bright smile.

“She’s full of personality,” Johnson said, laughing. “She’s very social: likes being around people, interacting with people. Not too scared of much.

“She’s pretty tough, I think, for a little girl.”

If treatment continues to go well, Alyssa will transition into maintenance treatments in a month or two. Maintenance treatment, which generally consists of low doses of chemo therapy, usually lasts for two years. After that, Alyssa will have an oncology check-up once a year until she is 18 years old, at which point those regular checkups will no longer be necessary.

When everything changed

Adam, Anna Grace, Lil’ Buck and Alyssa are all familiar faces at the N.C. Children’s Hospital.

They are heartbreakingly young for the suffering they’ve seen, with ages ranging from 4 months to 2-and-a-half years old. Two of them were almost disregarded as impossible cases at birth; the others faced alarming diagnoses shortly down the road.

What unifies them is not only their survival, but the strength and beauty their hardship has brought out in their parents and communities.

View and read about their incredible stories.

From a cardboard box to loving arms

Baby Adam, now five months old, was born in northeastern India and abandoned without a name by his biological parents because of his physical deformity. He was set aside in a cardboard box at the hospital when healthy babies needed the infant beds. Newlyweds Raja and Jessica gave up their comfortable life-plan to adopt Adam and give him the love, dignity and treatment he needed.

The joy of breathing

Anna Grace was two weeks old when she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system – a disease that will stay with her for the rest of her life, which will likely be shorter than most. The diagnosis came as a shock, for neither parent knows of anyone in the family with the disease. Anna Grace is Max and Adriane’s first child, so learning how to burp their baby coincided with learning to administer daily breathing treatments.

Lil’ Buck beats the odds

Lil’ Buck weighed about 6.5 pounds at birth – 4.5 of which was uterine fluid that filled him like a water balloon. With only a 5 percent chance of survival, the hydrops baby shocked the doctors and his parents with survival. Equally shocking, his mother said, was the way the family’s new community rose up to support them, even when they’d only moved to town a month before he was born.

Tough little girl with a big personality

It was at Alyssa’s second birthday party that her parents noticed a limp and a fever. They never imagined that within a month they would be facing a diagnosis like leukemia. The little girl with a big personality has already fought her way into remission, but until she is 18 years old, the fear of relapse will hang over the family at yearly checkups.

The Triangle Bladder Cancer Support Group has met for more than a year-and-a-half, providing encouragement for those diagnosed with the disease.

“It has helped to hear what others have gone through,” Ernie, who has been battling bladder cancer for more than five years, said. “You need support from someone else, and this group provides it.”

Bladder cancer is the fourth leading cancer for men, and the American Cancer Society estimates about 55,600 new cases in 2012. The rising number of bladder cancer cases means a growing number of patients, and patients’ families, coping with the disease.

“You are pretty much devastated when you hear the word cancer,” Ernie said. “I know my first reaction was shock.”

The Triangle Bladder Cancer Support Group serves as a platform for those diagnosed with the cancer, like Ernie, patients’ caregivers and their families to share their experiences with each other.

A ‘homegrown’ partnership

Liz Sherwood, coordinator for survivorship and oncology integrative medicine programs at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the N.C. Cancer Hospital, said the support group is a true partnership, “one between the folks who are interested in seeing it happen and us helping provide the space as well as some ability to get resources and help facilitate the support group.”

Sherwood said this “homegrown” group has been effective in helping patients make treatment decisions and find support under the leadership of David Langam, a bladder cancer survivor and a key organizer of the group.

“David in a big way was willing to take on the administrative responsibilities in terms of getting the word out and helping facilitate the actual group happening,” Sherwood said.

Dr. Matthew Nielson, Lineberger Center member who has helped with the development of the Triangle Bladder Cancer support group, said that Langam and the group have added depth the Lineberger Center’s support for patients.

“They have far exceeded the expectations for a fledgling support group and have a lot to be proud of,” Nielson said.

Coming together

Langham said that “for those of us who still have our bladders, it is really wonderful to be in these meetings and hear peoples experiences who’ve had theirs removed because we may be facing that.”

The Triangle Bladder Cancer Support Group’s monthly meeting, on the second Tuesday of the month, begins with a moment of silence followed by introductions, a statement of where group members are in their journey and usually ends with a speaker or group activity.

Ernie and his wife attend the meeting together as the majority of those in attendance are couples with the spouse acting as caregiver to the one diagnosed with cancer.

“Each meeting there is something different we discuss,” Ernie’s wife said. “There was one meeting where the patients were in one room and the caregivers were in another.”

The couple joined the group after seeing a brochure at a bladder cancer seminar they attended. At that time, Ernie had been receiving treatment at another facility and faced the possibility of his bladder being removed.

“I had been told previously that all my options had been excluded,” he said. “As fate would have it, the group had a meeting within a week. We were warmly received and were led to some doctors at UNC.”

‘The Encouragers’

“I first thought I don’t want to go to a support group, I don’t want to meet all these people,” his wife said, recalling her first reaction to the support group.

“But to hear what they have gone through and how they have coped—we could ask whatever questions we wanted and that was refreshing to know that there are others out there that can help you,” she said.

Five-year cancer fighter Ernie said the support group inspired him to write a poem called “The Encouragers” based on the other members’ encouragement, stories and willingness to share.

The final two stanzas of the poem sums up the importance support groups provide in this battle against cancer:

Moreover, there seemed to be a universal desire

To give encouragement to all in this cancer’s shadow

‘twas as though I was hearing a new version of

“I love to tell the story.”

We were blessed and enriched,

And encouraged by all in attendance.

This article was reported for the Reporting 253 class at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

A study at UNC linked cancer treatment response in a patient to that patient’s genetic makeup, which may improve cancer treatment plans.

Researchers in the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and UNC’s Institute for Pharmacogenomics & Individualized Therapy have evaluated the role in which genetics influence various chemotherapy treatments.

“We are spending, in some case, millions of dollars on genetic analysis and hadn’t asked whether genetics was the major driver,” Dr. Howard Mcleod, principle investigator in the research project and member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said. “The field was racing on without asking that fundamental question.”

So Mcleod and his fellow researchers decided to look into the role that inheritable factors play in cancer treatment.

The project began in 2008 and took white blood cells from 14 extended families in Utah and treated them with 29 different anti-cancer drugs. Because the families were so large, the project researchers were able to collect a lot of data.

Tammy Havener, director of the cellular phenotyping facility and member of the Lineberger Center, performed all the cell culture work and drug treatment in the study.

“You culture them, grow them, then treat them with drugs, and run experiments on them,” Havener said. “Since it has not been done on this magnitude before, we didn’t really know what to expect.”

The results showed genetic influence was as much as 60 percent for some drugs and as little as 15 percent for other drugs.

“We found it was indeed genetic, the sensitivity and the resistance tended to run in families,” Dr. Kristy Richards, project researcher and a member of the Lineberger Center, said. “It lets people see the potential genetics has to affect how we treat patients.”

“We might find new biology here,” Richards said.

While the study did show a correlation between a person’s drug treatment and his or her genes, Mcleod said that not all drugs may be influenced by hereditary factors. Yet with the number of people diagnosed with cancer, the more insight into why certain treatments are successful, the better.

“The more we can figure out how these drugs actually work the easier it will be to pick the right drug for an individual person,” he said.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 1.6 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed this year. Of those already suffering from cancer, the society estimates more than 577,000 will die this year.

Those who undergo chemotherapy treatment are at risk of multiple side effects including pain, hair loss and nausea; the severity of these effects varies from patient to patient. If cancer treatment could be catered to a person’s biological make-up, these sometimes painful treatments could be carried out in the most efficient and effective way.

“The grand idea, at the end of the day, would be to perfectly tailor someone’s chemotherapy regimen,” Richards said. “We would minimize side effects and maximize efficacy against cancer.”

This article was reporter for the Reporting 253 class at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Organizations across Chapel Hill are marking national breast cancer awareness month this October with events to benefit the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center was established in 1975 and has since grown to become the largest research entity at UNC, with 1,120 employees.

The Carolina Inn will be offering pink lemonade in pink cups during its popular Fridays on the Front Porch series in October. Portions of the lemonade sales will be donated to the LCCC. Additionally, the Inn will offer a discount for catering orders placed in October and will donate $1 to the cancer center from every entrée served.

The Aveda Institute of Chapel Hill hopes to raise $15,000 dollars to donate to the LCCC through various promotions and events during the month of October. On Wednesday, October 5, from 9:30 am to 7 pm Aveda will offer free haircuts, mini facials, neck and shoulder massages, makeup applications, express manicures and express pedicures free of charge. Aveda encourages a $10 donation for each of these services and will donate 100% of the donations to the LCCC.

On Saturday, October 8th the Chapel Hill Fire Department will host a “boot” drive at Gates 2, 3 and 6 of Kenan Memorial Stadium. The firefighters will be soliciting donations and selling “Give Cancer the Boot” tee shirts to raise money for the LCCC.

Additionally, CHFD will have a pink fire truck from the Pink Heals Tour on display outside of Gate 3. The Pink Heals campaign moves the pink engines across the nation where they are signed by cancer survivors. To date the pink trucks have been signed by over 40,000 women who have survived cancer.

(CNN) — Elizabeth Edwards, the estranged wife of former North Carolina senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, died Tuesday after a lengthy battle with cancer. She was 61.

She died at the family home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, according to a statement released by the family.

“Today we have lost the comfort of Elizabeth’s presence but she remains the heart of this family,” the statement said. “We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life.”

Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after her husband lost his bid for vice president in November 2004. John Edwards, a one-term Democratic senator, was Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s running mate.

It was later revealed that she knew before the election she might have cancer, but shielded her husband from the news during the campaign. She immediately underwent treatment, and the cancer was believed to be in remission.

In March 2007, at the start her husband’s 2008 presidential campaign, Edwards learned that the cancer had returned and spread.

Dr. Lisa Carey, the oncologist treating Edwards, categorized the cancer as metastatic stage four cancer, largely confined to the bones.

The cancer was diagnosed treatable but not curable, Edwards said.

Despite the diagnosis, Edwards said she was ready to go forward with her husband’s bid for the White House.

“Either you push forward with the things that you were doing yesterday or you start dying,” she said. “If I had given up everything that my life was about … I’d let cancer win before it needed to.”

“Maybe eventually it will win,” she said. “But I’d let it win before I needed to.”

John Edwards, unable to compete with the attention focused on then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, withdrew from the presidential race in January 2008.

Several months later, he admitted that tabloid claims about an extramarital affair with former campaign videographer Rielle Hunter were true. Eventually, he also admitted to fathering a child with Hunter — an allegation he initially vociferously denied even after conceding the affair.

John Edwards said the affair happened in 2006 while his wife’s cancer was in remission. He claimed he informed his wife at the time and asked for her forgiveness.

The couple was criticized by some activists for not revealing the affair prior to his presidential bid, as the news could have damaged Democratic chances if it became publicly known during a general election campaign in which John Edwards was the party’s standard bearer.

“This was our private matter, and I frankly wanted it to be private because as painful as it was I did not want to have to play it out on a public stage as well,” Elizabeth Edwards said.

The affair appeared to end any future political ambitions the former senator may have had. It also led to the couple’s separation.

Elizabeth Edwards was born Mary Elizabeth Anania on July 3, 1949, in Jacksonville, Florida. Her father was a Navy pilot, and in her early years, she attended school in Japan.

She attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and met her future husband while studying at UNC’s law school.

They spent their first date dancing at a local Holiday Inn, and it ended with John kissing Elizabeth on the forehead.

“It was just really sweet,” she said of the kiss. “I wasn’t used to men being sweet.”

The couple was married July 30, 1977, the Saturday after they took their state bar exams. They had three children: Wade, Cate, Emma Claire, and Jack. Wade Edwards was killed in a car accident in 1996.

Mrs. Edwards worked as a clerk for U.S. District Judge Calvitt Clarke Jr. in Norfolk, Virginia, and was a bankruptcy lawyer in Raleigh.

In 2006, after her initial cancer diagnosis, she wrote “Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers,” which chronicled the aftermath of her son’s death and her battle with the disease.

When her cancer returned in 2007, the couple held a news conference to publicize the information and declare their intention to continue with John Edwards’ campaign.

“You can go cower in the corner and hide or you can go out there and stand up for what you believe in,” the former senator said. “We have no intentions of cowering in the corner.”

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press after her husband admitted to his affair, Elizabeth Edwards said the incident helped her focus on resuming her role as an advocate for the poor and for health care reform. She also said it pushed her to refocus on her role as a mother.

She also said she did not want her husband’s tarnished public image to overshadow his role as an advocate for the poor — particularly in the eyes of her children.

“I have to prepare for the possibility if I die before they are grown” to make them “able to function without an involved, engaged and admiring parent,” she said. “So I need to create the picture for them that I want them to have.”

She said living with stage four cancer “is like dancing with a partner who keeps changing.”

“Fortunately with the research, it looks like there may be a new drug for me down the line,” she said. “My job is to stay alive until they find a cure. I don’t think there’s any way to live with this diagnosis than to have that kind of optimism.”

On Monday, the Edwards family released a statement saying that further cancer treatment would be unproductive.

In a message posted on her Facebook page, Elizabeth Edwards addressed her family and friends:

“The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren’t able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It’s called being human,” she wrote.

“But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful. It isn’t possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know.”

CNN’s John King contributed to this report.

TM & © 2010 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Franklin Street’s Varsity Theatre and the Chapel Hill/Raleigh women’s cycling team Luna Chix will partner November 11 to help fight breast cancer through an event they’ve named Lunafest.

“We are a group of 10 women who organize rides and clinics to other women in the area,” said Susan Shareshian, a member of the team. “We are also asked to participate in fundraising events throughout the year.  We decided to host Lunafest at the Varsity as a way to raise funds for the N.C. Cancer Hospital’s Breast Cancer program.”

Luna Chix is sponsored by Clif Bar, a company that manufactures energy bars and snacks. The Luna bar, geared specifically toward women, is one of those products.

Lunafest begins at 6:30 p.m. In addition to viewing several independent films on the Varsity’s silver screen, guests will be able to enjoy hors d’oeuvres and participate in a silent auction and raffle.   Tickets cost $25 per person, or $40 per couple.

“The evening will be filled with food, drink and friends,” Shareshian said.

The Luna Chix have set a fundraising goal of at least $5,000. Proceeds from the event will be split between Clif Bar’s Breast Cancer Fund and the breast cancer program at the N.C. Cancer Hospital’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Debbie Dibbert, director of external affairs for the Cancer Hospital, said this arrangement wasn’t unusual.

“It’s not uncommon when there’s a national fundraiser to split the proceeds. They’ll try to find a local partner,” she said.

Dibbert said that although the group hadn’t told her department at the hospital that it would be a beneficiary of the evening’s proceeds in advance of Lunafest, that, too, wasn’t unusual.

“Sometimes we’re involved in the planning, and sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised,” she said about benefit events. “We are eager to partner with folks who are out in the community doing these events, and we’re really grateful for the help.”

In addition to the film screenings, auction and raffle, several people from the local breast cancer community will also share their stories at Lunafest, Shareshian said. One of them is Carrboro resident Laura DeLoye, a partner to [Carrboro blues musician] Snooky Sroczynski and a stage III, triple negative breast cancer survivor of nearly two years.

Dr. Lisa Carey, who works at the Cancer Hospital and specializes in triple negative breast cancer, will speak as well. Her talk will focus on breast cancer’s past, present and prevention, she said.

“The Luna Chix have been involved in grassroots breast cancer advocacy and support for UNC cancer care,” Carey said. “They asked me if I could say a few words. I was thrilled to accept.”

Hosting the event at the Varsity’s central 123 E. Franklin St. location helped reach more members of the Chapel Hill community, Shareshian said.

“The culture of the new Varsity is to host key community events. By partnering with the Varsity we have been able to reach hundreds of local residents and visitors,” she said, adding that the event and the Luna Chix could offer something to everyone in the community, cyclist, breast cancer supporter or average citizen.

“You don’t have to be a cyclist to participate in our events,” she said. “There are many opportunities for the community to get involved.”

Dr. Carey agreed.

“This kind of partnership is key to success in improving prevention of, and survival from, cancer.”

This article was reported as part of the J253 Reporting and News Writing course at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When Dana DiPerna Pillsbury was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in six years, she decided to seek out doctors who were involved in the latest research and treatments. This search led her to the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The single mother of two traveled to Chapel Hill from her hometown of Charlotte. After finding out that she would need to undergo four weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, DiPerna Pillsbury said she realized it would be too difficult to commute twice a day.

But that didn’t stop her from sticking with the program at UNC Hospitals.

“I was committed to the treatment at the Cancer Center, so I decided to stay in Chapel Hill,” she said.

DiPerna Pillsbury, who teaches English at Hough High School in Cornelius, N.C., received offers from former students and friends to stay with them in Chapel Hill during her month of treatment.

A nurse navigator at the Cancer Center — who is also the mother of one of DiPerna Pillsbury’s former students — suggested that she stay at the State Employee’s Credit Union Family House at UNC Hospitals.

The Family House, a 40-bedroom facility on Old Mason Farm Road, houses critically ill patients and their family members or caregivers. The hospitality house also provides free transportation to and from UNC Hospitals as well as entertainment and food for its guests.

DiPerna Pillsbury, though initially reluctant to stay at the Family House, decided it was her most convenient and affordable option. She said she grew more optimistic about the house after her first visit.

“The people there were just so lovely and the environment was really lovely,” DiPerna Pillsbury said. “It was later that I discovered that there were a lot more benefits than what I had originally seen.”

Greg Kirkpatrick, executive director of the SECU Family House, said the staff’s primary goal is to make sure the patients and their families remain comfortable throughout their stay.

“[Our mission is] to provide a nurturing setting — a home away from home — for seriously ill patients and their family caregivers who come to UNC for treatment from all over North Carolina and beyond,” Kirkpatrick said.

Homemade dinners are brought to the house by volunteers almost every night between Monday and Thursday each week.

“That’s a big deal, because people don’t have to worry about dinner,” Kirkpatrick said. “They’re so grateful when it’s provided.”

The volunteers, who make up the majority of the Family House staff, come on a regular basis. Local residents Patsy and Charles Harrison serve dinner to guests on the first and third Tuesday of every month.

In addition to serving dinner to the guests, the Harrisons also provide comfort and support. Throughout the course of  months of volunteering, they have formed relationships with patients and their families.

“A lot of them are in and out, but when they’re there and we have been able to connect with them, they look forward to us coming and we look forward to seeing them,” Patsy Harrison said.

Kathy Yasui-Der, executive assistant at the Family House, said the Harrisons’ visits are invaluable.

“What they provide is priceless in terms of providing a warm meal for the guests who come and eat after spending a long day at the hospital,” Yasui-Der said. “They also provide a lot of comfort and good conversation.”

While the volunteers help foster a sense of community at the Family House, the guests often provide hope to one another as well.

“I think it was the community spirit there was an unexpected bonus,” DiPerna Pillsbury said. “I met people, made friends, and was able to see the spirit of volunteerism at the Family House that was just very inspiring.”

This aspect of DiPerna Pillsbury’s month-long stay in Chapel Hill meant more to her than just having a social life. For the breast cancer patient, time spent at the Family House was part of her cure.

“When you’re in a situation where you’re dealing with a serious medical condition like cancer, and especially the second time around for me, this was more than just a medical treatment,” she said.

Since finishing her treatment at the Cancer Center, DiPerna Pillsbury has shown no evidence of disease. She said the Family House helped turn a potentially difficult situation into a rewarding experience.

“Living somewhere else during a treatment — that can be pretty depressing,” DiPerna Pillsbury said. “But it wasn’t, and I think a lot of that had to do with Family House.”

This article was reported as part of the J253 Reporting course at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Researchers at UNC are developing methods to detect and treat cancer using particles that can’t be seen. After receiving a grant in September for $13.6 million, the Carolina Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence is determined to turn this tiny technology into something huge.

The center is one of nine programs nationwide receiving a grant from the National Cancer Institute, driving the center into its second five-year phase. The program, based at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, will undergo changes in leadership as well as focus.

“We’ve gotten much more focused on therapies and impacting patient care and early detection,” said Joseph DeSimone, co-leader of the research team. “It’s much more of a patient focus now than we’ve had in the past.”

In the hopes of improving methods of cancer detection and treatment, the center will perform research in nanotechnology. This involves working with very small particles that display unique characteristics as a result of their size.

The team will work mostly within two major areas of nanotechnology: nanoparticles and carbon nanotubes. As part of the study on nanoparticles, researchers will look for ways in which these particles can deliver different types of substances to a tumor to kill it.

In the study of carbon nanotubes, which generate X-rays, team members have already made advances. Project leader Otto Zhou has developed a device that uses the technology to help detect breast cancer.

“The goal is to be able to detect tumors at an earlier stage,” Zhou said. “We have something that looks promising and we’re looking to improve that in this new center project.”

In addition to helping develop new methods of cancer detection, Zhou has also pursued advances in treatment. He is currently in the early stages of developing a technology that may treat brain cancer.

While the nanotechnology center is devoted to its research, its primary focus remains the ultimate use of its new technologies on patients.

“It’s an integrated translation research effort,” DeSimone said. “It involves both research and a focus on moving things into the clinic, so it’s a blended approach.”

Joel Tepper, who will co-lead the research team with DeSimone, said all the team’s projects are driven toward future clinical application. Part of Tepper’s job is to ensure that all researchers keep this patient-centered goal in mind.

“The intent and the hope is that in five years, we will be talking about taking some of these [developments] into some early phase clinical testing,” Tepper said.

While clinical testing is not included in the current five-year grant, Tepper said he anticipates that the center will apply for another grant when this one ends in 2015 in order to continue the center’s progress.

Dr. Shelley Earp, UNC Lineberger director, said he supports the center in its concentration on the future of patient care.

“It brings a whole new way of looking at things, of both early detection and treatment, that we really hope to be testing on patients at the N.C. Cancer Hospital,” Earp said.

Given the unique nature of the program’s research, Tepper said he expects both optimism and skepticism from community members. Regardless of the response, he said he is almost certain that nanotechnology will benefit cancer patients in the long run.

“People shouldn’t expect that this is the answer to all of cancer, and if it doesn’t solve everything right away, people shouldn’t assume it’s useless,” Tepper said. “I feel very confident saying that nanotechnology development will make a substantial impact in the management of the cancer patient.”

This article was reported as part of the J253 Reporting and News Writing course at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.