Metastatic breast cancer does not have a cure. However, there have been incredible strides in helping people affected with this disease live longer.
While six months or six years may not seem like a lot of time to most people, every extra moment to spend time with family and friends is precious to people diagnosed with this devastating disease, in which the cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
“When you know that something like this will eventually take your life, every moment you can gain is incredibly valuable,” says Rick Dunetz, co-founder and executive director of the Side-Out Foundation in Fairfax. “More time means more birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and weddings.”
Side-Out was founded in 2005 by Rick and his father, Bryant Dunetz, after Gloria Dunetz, Rick’s mother and Bryant’s wife, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. The foundation focuses on using precision medicine to help those with the disease live longer with progression-free survival. This approach gave Gloria an extra six years of life.
“That meant something to her,” Rick said. “My mother wanted to see me get married and to see the birth of her grandchildren. She was able to witness those things because of precision medicine.”
With precision medicine, researchers determine the biological makeup of someone’s cancer and test different drugs and drug combinations on the tumors to find what works on them. “We share that information with a tumor board consisting of oncologists and scientists. My mother was actually patient number one in our first clinical trial.”
Standard care works to some degree for a good percentage of patients, Rick said, but precision medicine should precede it to ensure that the oncologist is making an informed decision.
“We try every FDA-approved cancer treatment on cancerous tissue we collect from each patient, and this tells us which treatment solutions will have a significant effect on a person’s disease.”
So what about the name, Side-Out? It’s a volleyball term that means regaining control of the ball, and it’s appropriate because volleyball has been the vehicle through which the foundation has raised money to help people such as Gloria regain some control over their lives.
Rick has been a part-time volleyball coach for many years. “In 2004, when I took over the West Springfield High School volleyball team, it was struggling; the head coach had resigned. And the day that the head coach resigned, I learned of my mother’s diagnosis.”
After a while, the stress started to take its toll and he decided to let his volleyball team know what was happening in his life. That conversation was the catalyst for all that came after and the spark that started the foundation.
“After that, the team made a decision that they were going to play in honor of my mother,” he recalled. “They started to win.”
During the district playoffs, his mother, who was in a state of depression, showed up to watch, and the team defeated a formidable opponent to win the district championship. After that, his mom continued to attend games, and that team went all the way to the regional semifinals.
“I believe my mother wouldn’t have made it two years had she not been moved by that team to take on the disease,” Rick said. “They inspired her.”
The Side-Out Foundation has raised $16 million so far, and Rick wants to see that number climb. “Up to this point, volleyball match fundraisers have raised it all, which is pretty incredible. But now we want to open the floodgates.”
What many people don’t know, says Rick, is that very little (only about 7%) of the funding raised in the wider breast cancer arena goes to finding a cure for metastatic disease. That’s why the Side-Out Foundation focuses solely on this aspect.
Of course, it’s important to raise money year round, but since Oct. 13is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day, Rick would like to see a Northern-Virginia-wide effort of businesses and individuals come together to raise funds for the foundation.
For every $2,000 raised, the foundation can serve one patient. “The more patients we serve, the more data we’re going to collect, and the more we’re going to learn about the disease and be able to give folks living with metastatic breast cancer more time.”
Rick said his father was the architect of our research. “He was the one who got it all started, and now at 86, he’s passing the torch to me. Our new research endeavor has my fingerprints on it. Having an impact on people’s lives is something that drives me every day.”