Patient Navigator Receives Spirit Award

November 9, 2017
By: Julie Poucher Harbin, Writer, DCI

DCI patient navigator Xiomara Boyce (left) celebrates her "Spirit to Impact" award with her daughter Xylina.A luncheon event benefiting the Susan G. Komen North Carolina Triangle to the Coast (Komen NCTC) — Finding Solutions Through Science, Scholars, and Survivors — today brought together 300 nationally-recognized breast oncology researchers, local breast cancer survivors and patients, corporate partners and private philanthropists. 

Held at The William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education in Chapel Hill, the event was designed to raise awareness about the impact of Susan G. Komen’s National Research Program on local and national breast cancer research. 

Every year, at this lunch, Komen NCTC honors individuals who are making a difference locally in the fight against breast cancer, with awards for Spirit to Inspire, Spirit to Impact, Spirit to Involve, and Spirit of Survivorship

This year, Xiomara Boyce, a Duke Cancer Institute patient navigator and two-time breast cancer survivor, was one of the honored awardees. She received the Spirit to Impact Award— “given to an individual that’s making an impact by supporting survivors and being a catalyst for change in breast cancer outcomes.”

Boyce has worked in community-based programs throughout Durham for the past 39 years. In addition to her work at Duke, Boyce is the founder and CEO of the Renacer Foundation, which is dedicated to the emotional, financial and educational support of Latino men and women at all phases of the cancer continuum.

Event emcee Debra Morgan, anchor at WRAL-TV, relayed the reasons for Boyce’s selection.

“Xiomara’s passion for the services she provides always shines through,” read Morgan. “She finds financial resources, lodging and transportation, and identifies and bridges cultural and linguistic barriers. These real world and day-to-day services are critically important to the patients and their families.”

Following the award ceremony, Boyce invited her daughter Xylina to join her in a videotaped interview with DCI. First diagnosed with breast cancer 25 years ago at the age of 41, she shared that Xylina, then six years old, “never left her side” when Boyce was in bed for five months, recovering from breast cancer treatment.

Kimberly Blackwell, MD, (right) enjoys a chat with Katrina Cooke, a six-year metastatic breast cancer survivor who was treated by Blackwell.“Now I am fighting and working around the clock so that I can actually encourage and help young ladies like my daughter to be cancer free,” she said. “In a way, this award means so much to me because it’s my passion, it’s my love, and I actually take it in honor of everyone who has worked, and everyone who still continues to work, to help other people."

"Cancer advocacy is tremendously important... and has changed the way we do research,” noted Komen keynote speaker Daniel Hayes, MD, clinical director of the breast oncology program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, during a panel discussion with other Komen scholars. “I think our trials now are much more practical, much more meaningful, and much more impactful because of the contributions of advocates.” 

The Komen Scholars panel, which was moderated by WRAL-TV's Allen Mask, MD, also included breast oncologist Kimberly Blackwell, MD (a co-director of DCI's Women’s Cancer Research Program) Charles Perou, PhD (co-director of the UNC Breast Cancer Program), as well as DCI-based Komen Postdoctoral Fellow Erika Crosby, PhD, who studies activation pathways that regulate immune responses. 

Allen Mask, MD, Health Team Physician at WRAL-TV (at far left), moderated a speakers' panel that included (from left to right) Komen Scholars Daniel Hayes, MD, Kimberly Blackwell, MD, Charles Perou, PhD, as well as DCI-based Komen Postdoctoral Fellow Erika Crosby, PhD.Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill together have received more than $1.3 million in grants this year from Komen to fund local breast cancer research.

Blackwell noted the progress that has been made in the fight against certain types of breast cancer.

“In particular we’ve certainly pushed the needle in improving the cure for both estrogen- receptor, what we call hormone-sensitive breast cancer, and the great news, over the past 10 or 15 years, is that we are curing more and more HER-2 positive breast cancer,” she said. “The drugs that have been developed for those subgroups of breast cancer really work, they really increase the cure rate and patients don’t have to pay the price of high levels of side effects.”

Erika Crosby, PhD, a Komen Postdoctoral Fellow, joins Noah Kauff, MD, director of clinical cancer genetics at DCI, at the DCI table. Crosby, who was part of the scholars panel, spoke about the future of immunotherapy and breast cancer.Blackwell also told a personal story about how a patient had inspired and challenged her, back in 2009, to tackle triple negative breast cancer in her research, a more difficult breast cancer to treat. She noted how Komen dollars have “really made a difference” in her research into that cancer.

“At Komen, it's not just about funding low-hanging-fruit projects, it’s about funding big impact, 'Bold Goal,' we’re-not-afraid-of-triple-negative kind of projects,” she said.

Komen’s 'Bold Goal' is to reduce the number of breast cancer deaths by 50 percent in the U.S. by 2026. There are 40,00 breast cancer deaths each year; mostly to do with metastatic disease.

“We depend on the hard work and dedication of our Komen scholars and researchers to help us reach that goal,” said Pam Kohl, executive director of Komen NCTC, who's living with metastatic breast cancer. “Together we can achieve a world without breast cancer.”

Duke Cancer Institute was a Gold Sponsor of today's luncheon event.