Members of a compassionate group of musical performers, many of whom know the pain of cancer, have been singing their hearts out to propel targeted cancer research at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.
Members of Voices of Hope are connected by their love of musical performance and through their personal experience with cancer.
In 2009, a group of local actors producing the musical Aida in Arlington, Mass., came together to support cast member Greg Chastain, who had lost his mother to cancer a week before opening night. After the show, they pooled their talents with other members of the local theater community to put on a music-filled fundraiser for cancer research in her honor. Voices of Hope was launched.
Members of Voices of Hope are connected by their love of musical performance and through their personal experience with cancer. Some are caretakers of cancer patients, have lost a loved one, or have witnessed someone’s recovery. Others are cancer survivors or are going through treatment themselves.
“We thought it would be a one-time thing,” says Dana Siegal, founding member and executive artistic director. “But we bonded over our mutual love for theater and an understanding of how healing music can be in the face of grief.”
Nearly 10 years later, Voices of Hope has donated more than $600,000 — $465,000 of which has gone to the Henri and Belinda Termeer Center for Targeted Therapies at the Mass General Cancer Center for targeted cancer research. Their goal is to hit the $1 million mark over the next few years in an effort they call the “March to a Million.”
A Celebratory Spirit
Meanwhile, Voices of Hope has expanded from 22 members to more than 300.
They now raise funds exclusively for the Termeer Center and put on several performances a year, including the annual Fall Gala. Members of the all-volunteer ensemble are eager to contribute their time to further the Termeer Center’s mission of developing and delivering promising personalized cancer treatments to patients who urgently need them.
“For a lot of us, it’s not about wanting to fight back — a phrase that comes up a lot when you’re talking about cancer,” Ms. Siegal says. “Most of us feel like we want to give back.”
During the fall galas, some cast members take to the stage to share why they support cancer research in between song and dance numbers.
The Power of Targeted Cancer Research
Last year, Ms. Siegal’s brother, Ken Ewen, shared his story. In 2015, he received a diagnosis of a rare form of advanced melanoma. He quickly underwent two surgeries and treatment at the Mass General Cancer Center.
The targeted therapy combination that helped Mr. Ewen was made available to cancer patients through the Termeer Center.
During this time, Mr. Ewen stepped up his involvement in Voices of Hope and became a fully dedicated crew member. “The support I received from the group was incredible,” Mr. Ewen says.
But three months later, the disease had progressed to stage four and spread to his lymph nodes and lungs.
Mr. Ewen’s doctors, led by Donald Lawrence, MD, clinical director of the Center for Melanoma, switched him to a combination of then-experimental, immune system-stimulating drugs, Opdivo and Yervoy. He’s been in remission since last June, and scans continue to show no signs of cancer.
The trial that Mr. Ewen participated in represents the furthest advance of immunotherapy for melanoma. And though these drugs first showed impact in melanoma, they were made available to other cancer patients through the Termeer Center, resulting in this same combination becoming FDA-approved for three cancer types.
Combination immunotherapy trials constitute half of all trials conducted at the center.
“The biggest revolution in cancer therapy development has been the rapid application of new treatments to those cancer patients most likely to benefit in early clinical trials,” says Keith T. Flaherty, MD, director of the Termeer Center.
A Decade of Hope
Dr. Flaherty and other Mass General faculty and staff are regulars at Voices of Hope performances. On Oct. 13, Voices of Hope held their 10th anniversary Fall Gala at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts.
“Voices of Hope is totally unique amongst all advocacy groups with which I have been engaged through my career,” Dr. Flaherty says. “They don’t shy away from the emotional, psychological, personal, and physical trauma that a cancer diagnosis brings. And, as a consequence, they genuinely and openly communicate the experience of cancer to a broad audience. The hope that they invest in cancer research and clinical trials is deeply heartfelt.”
Ms. Siegal marvels that what started a decade ago has evolved into an enduring bond between the musical group and the Termeer Center.
“Who knew that this is where we would be these many years later,” she says. “It’s not only my love of the relationship Voices of Hope has built with MGH, but the gift of life my family enjoys in my brother, because of the advancement in care at MGH.”
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