Center opens doors to educate

Melanie Evans

Smooth and pink, the color and size of a chicken breast, a healthy lung sits on the table sealed in a stiff plastic bag. Riddled with holes and pockmarked, a gray and tan emphysema-diseased lung rests next to its healthy cousin.
“We wanted to make an impression,” said Teri Kast, who spent her Sunday staffing the lung, head and neck cancer exhibit at the University’s Cancer Center open house.
“This is kind of the scare room,” she said. “Whatever it takes.”
Sunday’s four-hour open house included tours of the 2-year-old, $20 million headquarters for the University’s cancer research, the Masonic Cancer Center.
Fluorescent dyes and lasers introduced guests to new treatments and preventative measures for America’s second deadliest disease. One in four deaths in the United States is caused by cancer.
Free T-shirts, carnations and sun screen tempted guests into discussions with white-coat-clad doctors who used professional and family experience to answer questions and provide advice.
The open house, now in its third year, is the center’s way of reaching out to students and families of cancer survivors, said Dr. Dave Rothenberger, the center’s associate director for research and programs.
Budding scientists got the chance to measure liquids and magnify cells in a hands-on lab. The main attraction in the first-floor children’s room — a coloring table — helped children and parents learn how to talk about a friend or family member with the disease.
John and Marilee Miller brought their two grandchildren, Alyssa and Aubrey, to learn about cancer and about science. John Miller’s mother, Mary, is a 10-year survivor of breast cancer.
The couple has an interest in the subject, said Marilee Miller, who is the School of Nursing’s associate dean. Her husband shuttles cancer patients to and from doctors’ appointments as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society. Marilee Miller’s specialty is oncology — the biological and chemical study of tumors.
The center, established in 1991, provides a hub for the scores of doctors and scientists — more than 250 from colleges across the University — who study cancer’s causes and cures.
Rothenberger said research conducted by staff members runs the gamut: from gene and chemotherpay to the study of naturally occurring nutrients, which might prevent the disease.
For example, isolating the cancer-fighting qualities in vegetables like cabbage, could lead to new medicines, he said.
“You are never going to get a million people eating enough cabbage,” Rothenberger said with a wry smile.
Even simple measures, like a healthy diet and exercise can help prevent cancer, he said.
The American Cancer Society estimates that one-third of the 564,800 cancer-related deaths that are expected to occur in the United States in 1998 are related to nutrition. The society predicts another 175,000 deaths in 1998 will be caused by tobacco use, and that 19,000 will die because of cancer stemming from excessive use of alcohol.
Cancer’s complexity leads to confusion about how the disease is treated and prevented, said Dr. John Kersey, the center’s director.
New treatments and technology means patients, survivors and family members need not lose faith in the search for a cure, he said.
“There are lots of reasons to be hopeful about cancer,” Kersey said.