Monthly Archives: July 2013

Keeping Track of Leukemia Specimens

Over seven years ago, I was asked to create a system to help scientists keep track of specimens at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center where I work. The system I created, the AML Specimen Bank, is still used today by researchers studying an often fatal type of leukemia in children called acute myeloid leukemia or AML.

amlBack seven years ago, Dr Soheil Meshinchi, a pediatric oncologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital, came to me asking for help in replacing an aging system they were using to keep track of the specimens they collected for the AML registry they maintained. The original system, a desktop program written in Visual Basic on top of Microsoft Access, had a number of problems. After evaluating the system, I decided to rewrite it in ASP.NET Web Forms, C#, and SQL Server.

amldbThe system lets scientists collect information about the patient who supplied the sample, about the type of specimen collected (blood, tissue, etc.), and where the samples are stored (freezer name, stack, level, and location within the box). AML researchers use the system to store samples, maintain related data, manage the freezers that store the samples, and locate and check out samples for use in their research.

It’s nice to know that seven years later, Dr Meshinchi and his colleagues are still using the system to keep track of the AML sample repository. In fact, the system we first created seven years ago works so well that it has been Cancer-of-the-Bloodcloned and reworked for four other sample repositories for other types of cancers. We are currently in the process of creating a brand new edition of the system for a more comprehensive leukemia repository that we are building using .NET 4.5 and ASP.NET MVC.

I am very lucky to have found a job that blends my programming aptitude with my love of science, research, and improving the lives of others.


I’m riding in Obliteride to help raise money for the life-saving research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where I work. Please consider donating to my ride to end cancer.

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My Dinner with Mike

Share-The-Road-Sign-K-6751A couple of weeks ago we were supposed to meet out contractor, Mike the Plumber, as he likes to call himself, at a restaurant and pub for a drink to discuss the finishing our basement.

At one point, the conversation shifted to cyclists and Mike became quite adamant about how cyclists were unsafe and didn’t pay for the roads and thus they should have no say in how roads were used. Only when cyclists were licensed and paid a fee for that license should they have a say.

Though his presentation was a bit over the top, thanks to a few beers, Mike does have a point about safety and the fact that many cyclists flagrantly and repeatedly break traffic laws. In my eyes, you’re either to be treated like a car or a pedestrian. And if you want to be treated as a car, you need to follow the rules of the road, including but not limited to, stopping at stop signs and red lights. I do!

Regarding Mike’s point about cyclists having no say because they are not paying for the roads, that’s just absurd and here’s why…

  1. Who said that the sole purpose of all roads in a city was to host motor traffic? I don’t buy that: there are other users in our society who need to be accommodated.
  2. The vast majority of adult cyclists also have motor vehicle licenses and thus we ARE already paying license fees… and federal income taxes, and sales taxes, and property taxes.
  3. Cyclist should be thanked and compensated for (a.) reducing traffic and thus commute times of drivers, (b.) reducing carbon emissions and global warming, (c.) freeing up parking spaces. This is true for bus riders and pedestrians too. Perhaps, we should be getting annual carbon-reduction rewards and single car drivers should be paying carbon surcharges?

shareIn fact, the more people who commute using alternate forms of transportation, the better the experience for automobile drivers. So instead of cursing us, Mike, you should be thanking us.

Enough said.

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Double Dipping

Returning home from workSo the reality of my late summer athletic commitments has finally settled in. I’m training for both a September marathon (the tiny Tunnel Lite marathon) and the August 50-mile cancer fund-raising bike ride (Obliteride).

What this means…

  • I need to run five days a week including one long run on Saturday and one hill or speed workout on Tuesdays.
  • I need to bike to work most days. Only 5 1/2 miles each way but it’s valuable bike time none-the-less.
  • I need to do a long bike ride at least once a week. Typically on Sundays with Suzanna.
  • I recently added strength training. Weights & core stuff. You know the drill.

10 minutes later suited up for Tuesday night hills workoutIn many ways, it’s like training for a triathlon without the swimming. So far, I have to say that everything is going well. The big fear, of course, is of injuring myself. Which means that while I have to be consistent and push myself I need to also train smart.

Also, for Obilteride, there is the fund-raising task. And that is going phenomenally well. I am mainly using social media (Facebook, Twitter, and this blog) to publicize my efforts and ask for donations. Plus a few emails to my friends and co-workers. If you are one of the 28 people who have already donated, thank you! And if you haven’t donated, please consider donating today. You can read more about the cause in prior blog posts.

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Fred and William Hutchinson

As you may have read, I am riding in a cycling event, Obliteride, that is a fund-raised for the cancer institute where I also work and have worked for the past 9+ years, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

What, you ask? Why is the place you work named Fred Hutchinson and what does that have to do with cancer? Many years ago, I wondered that same thing.

Well, it turns out that Fred Hutchinson was a person—a moderately famous major league baseball player and manager who grew up and went to college in Seattle. And it turns out he died of lung cancer in 1964.

Just as important, Fred had a brother named William who was a surgeon and who decided to found a cancer research center in honor of his brother, Fred, in 1975. This was the birth of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which has done many great things in the effort to eliminate cancer and reduce suffering from it.

I am riding Obliteride and raising money because I believe so strongly in the place where I work and the good we are doing.

Recently, I ran across this great video about the Hutchinson brothers.

 

Please consider donating to my Obliteride campaign to end cancer by clicking below. Thank you!

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Cancer Gets Personal

Cancer definitionIt seems like not too long ago when I didn’t know anyone with cancer and then it seemed to hit, like summer here in Seattle…One day it’s 50 degrees and raining, and the next, boom, it’s hot and sticky summer weather. All of a sudden all around us, just like, for me, cancer.

In 2011 though it was my turn. First, some background: After a birth defect necessitated a kidney transplant; my father donated a life-saving kidney to me in 1995, I have been blessed with pretty-darned good health. So much so that I was training for the RSVP (Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party) bike ride with Paul (we did STP (Seattle to Portland) the previous year) when, after a 100 mile training ride I didn’t feel well.

Of course, you might think that after 100 miles on a bike, most people would feel crummy; but it wasn’t just being tired and sore. That night I couldn’t get warm and watched as my temperature started to climb, up to 101, then 102, an finally 103. Now, as a transplant recipient you can think of two causes of a high fever; infection or rejection. So a trip to the ER was an absolute necessity. Here we were back from a trip to Europe, where Paul had just proposed to me, and now it’s off to the emergency room with my new fiancé.

After an initial evaluation, I was told I most likely had a kidney infection and they ordered an ultrasound. I was hospitalized and, when the results of the ultrasound came back, the doctors started saying they saw something, but they couldn’t really determine what it was and wanted my infection to die down a bit before confirming a diagnosis. I don’t remember when the “c” word was uttered for the first time, but I do remember getting the phone call in the evening at home, from the surgeon telling me that I had cancer. It hit me like a brick.

Of all the places for me to get cancer, did it have to be my precious kidney? My one and ONLY kidney? Talk about shock and awe…

Kidney cancer really only responds to one thing, surgery– to remove the tumor. As someone who carefully guarded her only kidney, the last thing I wanted was for it to be cut into. However, I certainly didn’t want to walk around with cancer–does anyone–so the surgery was scheduled.

My surgery was successful and I recovered just fine. Now when you have cancer surgery you think, well, that’s that; they cut it out! No more cancer for me, let’s celebrate! It’s such a downer when you go for your one year check up and the doctor says, let’s do a chest x-ray because that’s where this kind of cancer goes next. Well, so far so good, no cancer in the kidney or the lungs and my follow-up will only be the chest x-ray and my prognosis is good. Bullet dodged.

Of course another cancer scare has come & gone since then… Just recently an innocent enough looking line on my fingernail was biopsied and luckily did not turn out to be melanoma. It did require the removal of my thumb nail and a few days of quite a bit of pain, but the melanoma-free diagnosis was worth it.

But both Paul and I know plenty of people going through similar, even more challenging cancer scares and long-drawn out battles. Nothing makes you feel more vulnerable than cancer because it never seems to go away, you feel like it’s always lurking.

obliterideIt’s easy to not think about cancer and donating for the cause when you aren’t affected personally by it. But when you or a close friend or relative gets cancer, you can no longer ignore the fact that it’s a real and horrible disease. It also makes you want to rid the planet of cancer. And that’s what the researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center where Paul works are trying to do. This is why I believe so much in Obliteride. And why Paul is riding in Obliteride, why I am volunteering, and why we are donating to the cause as well.

Please consider donating to Paul’s Obliteride campaign.

tripledAnd because I believe so much in the cause, Paul and I will match all donations between now through Sunday, July 7th, up to $500 dollars total. And because I work for Microsoft who matches donations at 100%, any money you donate will therefore be tripled! How’s that for some incentive to donate today?

Suzanna Litwin

Post Script: Suzanna’s challenge raised $550 so we matched it with the limit of $500 which Microsoft will match again.  Thus, her challenge raised at least $1,500 (not counting the fact that some of the donors also worked for Microsoft and will be submitting their donations for matching as well).

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