Charity

Obliteride Wrap-up!

The 50-mile route

The 50-mile route

Over the last three months, Suzanna and I donned out bike jerseys and shorts, grabbed our bikes, and trained so we would be ready to ride 50 miles on Sunday, August 9th. Well, Sunday came around, the weather was sunny (but thankfully not too sunny), and Suzanna and I had a great time pedaling 50 miles in Obliteride 2015.

The dedication wall

The dedication wall

More important that the athletic challenge of riding 50 miles was the fund-raising. We used social media and a few emails—sorry if we annoyed you—to ask our friends and family to donate to the cause. And thanks to the generosity of our friends and family, we managed to raise $4000 for life-saving research at Fred Hutch. Thank you so much, donors, for your generosity.

 

The Ride

It was a truly great weekend. On Friday, was the kick-off party with food, drink, music, and a chalk board to write dedications for the event.

We arrived at Fred Hutch on Sunday just before 8:00 AM, unloaded the bikes from

Suzanna and Paul at the start

Suzanna and Paul at the start

the car, and made our way to the starting line. After the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, the ride started promptly at 9:00 AM and Suzanna and I took off along with several hundred other riders doing the 50-mile route. One of the best parts of the ride, was the fact that we got to ride together the whole way. We finished the ride with my hand on Suzanna’s shoulder as the announcer announced our arrival, adding the fact that Suzanna was a cancer survivor. Survivors, in fact, had special status all weekend which was a fitting touch. At the start, signs naming each and every survivor rider lined Fairview Avenue.

The survivor sign

The survivor sign

In all, over 1,000 riders participated in the event, raising (as of August 11th), over 1.8 million dollars for Fred Hutch! This number will undoubtedly go up between now and the end of September. What a great event for a great cause. We are so glad we could be part of Obliteride 2015!

 

 

 

Obliteride was a success because of all the generous donors. It’s not too late; you can still contribute to Obliteride until September 30th!

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Back to the Real World

In my work at Fred Hutch I collect and manage data on cancer patients.  Every day when I come to work, I have to temporarily suspend my empathy for the patients we study and disconnect my emotions or I’d lose my objectivity and quite possibly my mind and never get any work done. The people and their experiences we study become data points living in a database within a virtual world stored inside the computer network. They become statistics that we manipulate and report on to further science. This is a necessary requirement of doing research and getting the work done. Thus, most of the time when I work at Fred Hutch, I live in the abstract world.

Every so often, though, the reality of cancer thrusts me back into the real world like a cold slap across the face. Yesterday, for example, I learned that a friend in her forties who had been battling cancer for a number of years finally succumbed to the disease and died. Aletia wasn’t a close friend but she was someone I knew through our church and the school that my children attended.  A real person cut down in her prime by cancer, leaving behind two lovely girls and a loving husband.

Aletia’s death is also a reminder why working in cancer research is so important. Real people get cancer, real people suffer from it, and real people die. Lots and lots of people. From babies to 100-year olds and everyone in between. This is the reality of cancer and the reality of life. RIP, Aletia.

I’m riding Obliteride on August 9th to raise money for cancer research at Fred Hutch. Please consider donating to the cause.

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A Day in the Life of a Cancer Programmer

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research CenterI consider myself very lucky to have the privilege to work at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which we affectionately call Fred Hutch. I manage a small team of programmers in creating custom solutions to support the world-renowned research that is happening here.

In this post, I thought I’d give you an idea of what research projects I am personally involved with day to day, either in a programming/configuration/orchestration/maintenance role or in a management role.

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that not all of the work we do at Fred Hutch is cancer related. Fred Hutch scientists also do research in infectious diseases, diseases of the immune system, and a few other disorders. Still, the bulk of the science being done here is cancer related.

So here are some of the projects I am currently working on…

1. My group at Fred Hutch serves as the clinical coordination and data management center for a multi-site study of an immune system disorder called Sjogren’s Syndrome. The goal of this study is to develop a panel of biomarkers to diagnose this disorder. We are responsible for the collection, quality control, and storage of clinical and laboratory data for this clinical trial. For this project, we use a electronic data capture system called REDCap, a laboratory system named LabKey, SAS, a few custom-built .NET programs to tie it all together, and SQL Server.

Image_782. I lead the programming team supporting a pair of trials looking at the accuracy of pathologists when diagnosing breast cancer and melanoma. Initial results of the breast cancer study made news when a controversial paper describing the results was recently published in JAMA. The system is built using ASP.NET MVC with an electronic slide viewer built using Silverlight.

vials-rack-192652743. I created and maintain a specimen repository that I first wrote using ASP.NET about 10 years ago. This system is used to track specimens– little vials of blood and tissue that are collected from study subjects and stored in super-cold freezers–for five different repositories, including repositories for leukemia and a rare disease known as Shwackman-Diamond syndrome.

4. My team maintains another ASP.NET-based system that tracks the logistics of running hundreds of clinical trials in AIDS treatment and prevention. This system also communicates to our funding agency at the National Institutes of Health on a daily basis using a web service client.

5. My team recently launched a new study that is looking at the effects of eating frequency on health. We helped build the data collection system (using REDCap) and a .NET console program that texts participants reminders to complete their daily food intake diaries.

6. We are working to build a website for a new study with pilot funding to improve the reliability of self testing for Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections in bone marrow transplant recipients. CMV is particularly dangerous in these patients.

Cholera7. I am helping to manage the data collection of a study that is attempting to extract information about cholera outbreaks in Africa using as the source data reports extracted from a public reporting system called ProMED. The goal of the study is to build models to better understand how this devastating disease spreads.

8. We manage the data collection for innovative research study to use acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to coach smokers over the telephone to quit smoking. Prior studies have shown ACT to be a promising technique to help smokers and others with addictions to stop these destructive behaviors.

9. I recently completed an online implementation of a scoring algorithm for use by oncologists who are trying to predict patient survival from hematopoietic stem cell transplants for leukemia and myeloma. The system was built using ASP.NET MVC and jQuery.

10. I lead a team that maintains a 8-year old custom-developed CATI (computer assisted telephone interviewing) program for our telephone interviewer team.

That covers most of the systems that occupy my time of late.The technology is not always bleeding edge but, in general, we try to stay current and forward thinking.

It’s a challenging job at times, especially when trying to juggle dozens of clients who are almost always on a short schedule with a even shorter budget. But boy, is it rewarding. I truly love my job and I hope you enjoyed reading a bit about it.

Obliteride_Logo_Horizontal_4CP_Regv2And finally (you knew there was a tie in), my wife Suzanna and I are riding our bikes 50 miles on August 9th to raise money for the wonderful and truly life-saving research being done at Fred Hutch. Won’t you please consider supporting the amazing work we are doing here by donating to my ride? Thank you.

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Running for Me but Riding for Them

Obilteride2013This past Saturday, Suzanna and I jumped on our bikes and rode 30 miles as part of our training for the 50 mile Obliteride bike ride on August 9th to raise money for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where I also happen to work. Then on Sunday, we drove up to Snoqualmie Pass, got off at the Hyak exit, and Suzanna dropped me off for a run through the Hyak tunnel and along the Iron Horse trail where we reunited after 21 miles. You see I am also training for my 11th marathon, the Light at the End of the Tunnel race on June 14th and I was running the first 21 miles of the course.

RuningOnTrack2013I am running the marathon in two weeks for myself and my goal to finally qualify for the Boston Marathon. Two years ago, I actually qualified at the Eugene Marathon but, alas, that was the year that the Boston Athletic Association dropped the qualifying times in September another minute and 38 seconds for the 2014 race and I no longer qualified. They dropped the qualifying times again for the 2015 race by 1:02 so who knows what the real eventual qualifying time will be this year for my age group. Anyway, it has always been a life-long goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon and I am hoping to do it in a couple of weeks.

On the other hand, I am riding Obliteride, not for myself, but for all those who’s lives have been affected by cancer.  So whether or not I qualify for Boston, I will continue my training and fund-raising for Obliteride and Fred Hutch. And as much as I want to do well in the maratObliteride_Logo_Horizontal_4CP_Regv2hon and qualify, Obliteride and cancer research is so much more important.

Won’t you please consider donating to my ride?

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Cancer Gets Personal

2014-05-11 08.35.41

Suzanna

As many of you know, I work at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (or simply Fred Hutch). It’s a very rewarding job knowing that I am helping scientists crack the code of cancer and save lives. But to be honest, when working in cancer research, it’s very easy to keep the suffering from cancer at a very distant, clinical, and safe distance from oneself. Hey, it’s just a job! (In reality, it’s not just a job, but I’ll save that for another post.)  But I have a more personal relationship with this thing called cancer.

Over twenty years ago my sister, Pat, had a close call with melanoma.

My dad had a pre-cancerous but serious disease of his throat called Barrett’s Esophagus. It got so serious for my dad that they had to surgically remove part of his esophagus in a quite painful surgery. (Fred Hutch is a world leader in Barrett’s Esophagus research, by the way.)

My cousin, Paul Kunzinger, who was born within a year of me, died of lung cancer in 2007 at the age of 49 leaving behind his wife and two lovely girls. (If you are interested, I wrote about Paul in a blog post back in 2009 while I was raising money for a different cancer ride.) Needless to say, his death was devastating to his family.

Cancer really hit home, however, when my wife, Suzanna, had a major scare when her only kidney (transplanted from her dad almost 20 years ago) was found to have a cancerous tumor on it a few months after we were engaged in 2010. It was very likely that she might lose her kidney in the battle and then what? I was certainly ready to give her one of mine but we didn’t know if I would be a good match. Fortunately, her kidney surgery was a resounding success and she was able to keep her kidney. She gets a scan every year to make sure it hasn’t come back. (Suzanna, who is also riding Obliteride this year, has written about her cancer battle in a series of posts on her blog.)

Suzanna and I are so so lucky that it worked out so well because, to be frank, we feared the worst. I’m sure we felt like many people who get the diagnosis of cancer. That’s why research needs to continue at world-class cancer research centers like Fred Hutch. And this is why Suzanna and I are riding Obliteride to raise money for Fred Hutch. I hope you can help.

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Kicking Off Obliteride 2015 Training and Fundraising

2015-05-16 13.56.27A couple of days ago I decided to join Obilteride 2015. I also participated in this fundraiser for the amazing place where I work back in 2013. This year, I am riding the 50 mile ride with my wife, Suzanna. Unlike many charity events, 100% of the money raised for Obliteride goes to fund the awesome work being done at the cancer research center that I work for, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. That’s right, since a number of sponsors are picking up the overhead to run the event, 100% of the money donated will go to directly to cutting-edge cancer research done at Fred Hutch; research aimed at curing cancer and reducing suffering from this horrible family of diseases.

I have to admit that I am very lucky to work at the world-renowned Fred Hutch alongside some of the brightest scientists in the world. Fred Hutch has done a lot of wonderful research in order to understand, prevent, treat, and yes, even cure cancer. The funds raised by Obliteride when combined with grant funds from the National Institutes for Health and other funding agencies will help Fred Hutch continue its pioneering research to help obliterate cancer.

So while I continue to train for the ride on August 9, I am hoping you will consider making a donation to my Obliteride campaign. Thank you!

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My Obliteride

Me (in the middle) at the StartTwo weeks ago on Saturday, I got up at 5:30 am after a night of not-so-restful sleep. (We had thunder and lightning much of the night and I was a little anxious about the ride.) Unfortunately for Suzanna, she had to wake up two hours earlier since she was on the first volunteer Saturday shift for the event.

Even though I woke up at 5:30 and the ride didn’t start until a little before 8:00, I managed to fritter the time away so that when I finally left I had to Suzanna at the Friday Night Pre-Partyride like a mad-man to the start. And instead of taking the longer, flatter route, I rode the 5+ miles straight over the NE 65th Street hill to the start at Magnuson Park.

When I arrived, Suzanna was there at the start in her orange volunteer shirt. There were four different routes and we were each release in waves. First, the 180 mile riders, then the 100, then my group, the 50 mile riders, and after we were gone, the 25 milers.

 

The Route

With all due respect to the event organizers – they did a fantastic job in so many ways – whoever designed the routes must be a sadist. Check out the elevation chart: one huge hill after the next.

Hills, Hills, and more Hills

Now I understand that Seattle is hilly but I’ve lived and run and ridden all over this area during the past 30 years.That said, there are ways to avoid the hills and not to pound hills them into the participants of a ride.

Nice Caribbean Band at a Rest StopOh, and while I am mentioning it, one other issue was the bad signage. The course signage consisted of the occasional “Course” sign on a telephone pole and four different colored arrows on the pavement: one color for 25, another for 50 (blue), and two other colors for the 100 and 180 mile routes.

Suffice it to say, it was really easy to miss the arrows. I know that I and a number of other 50-milers managed to miss at least one turn and ended Relaxing after the ridethe race with only 41 miles on the bike odometer (and we really wanted to ride 50). I spoke with a number of other people riding various routes and many rode either too many miles or too few because of missed or extra turns in the route.

On the other hand, this is only the first year for the event; I’m sure they have heard their fair share of complaints about the hills and signage issues, and likely make things better next year.

 

The Money Raised for Cancer Research

raisedDespite the hilly course and the other minor issues, It was an amazing event. After all, the point of the whole thing was to raise money for cancer research and thanks to my sponsors, we managed to raise over $3,100 (not including the matching corporate donations that should be coming in Getting a massage after the ridesoon).

All totaled, the event has raised 1.5 million dollars for the live-saving research that happens at the place where I work: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. So far, that is. Money will continue to come in from late donations, matching donations, and riders who hadn’t met their minimum donation amount by race day (they have until October 1).

Aside: The Seattle Times wrote a nice article on the race. I’m even depicted in the starting line crowd in the second of two photos. For some reason, I wasn’t smiling at the moment the shutter went off. But I was happy inside!

I am so happy I got to be part of the first Obliteride; I plan to ride it again next year. In fact, Suzanna and I area talking about riding it together next year. And we likely will up the mileage and tackle one of the longer routes. But we have a little time to work out the details.

Thanks again everyone for your support!

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Better Care Starts with a Better Diagnosis

30cancer2-tmagArticleYou may have read the recent article about the National Cancer Institute coming up with more precise language when talking about cancer. Sounds silly perhaps, but this is so important when dealing with this scary disease and the language that physicians use can subtly change the care given to patients as well as their comfort level.

At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute where I work, I have been involved in two studies of cancer diagnosis, more specifically in how pathologists read pathology biopsies for Melanoma (skin cancer) and Breast Cancer.

These ground-breaking studies, led by Dr. Joann Elmore at the University of Washington, are taking a hard look at how well pathologists do in diagnosing cancer, and how diagnostic procedures can be improved. My group has provided the programming support for these studies, including the development of a web-based slide viewer, data collection forms, and the infrastructure to support the projects.

Donations made to my Obliteride campaign support studies like these as well as many other life-saving scientific research studies in diagnosis, prevention, and treatment at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.


I’m riding in Obliteride on August 10th 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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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.

donate now

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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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