Friday, March 11, 2016

Athlete with lung cancer finds needed care at the MGH

RUNNING STRONG: Kafri during the ultramarathon

Two years ago, Yariv “Dolio” Kafri was an active, committed 47-year-old athlete. A one-time member of the Israeli national volleyball team, he had played soccer for many years, and was a surfer, triathlete, yogi and biker. He was in excellent physical condition and had never smoked a day in his life.

One September morning, Kafri was surfing near his home on Long Island when he was struck on the head by his board. He didn’t think it was serious, but started seeing “floaters” in his left eye. At the hospital, doctors told Kafri they had found a tumor behind his ear. A body scan revealed more tumors, including a large one on his left lung.

The diagnosis was stunning – stage 4 lung cancer,the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Kafri had non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with several mutations. In a striking coincidence, Kafri’s brother-in-law is a researcher who studies lung cancer. He advised Kafri to seek out the leading authority on his form of cancer. That’s what led him to Alice Shaw, MD, PhD, of the MGH Cancer Center.

Kafri was treated with a drug called crizotinib, which Shaw helped develop. Kafri calls Shaw “a combination of Einstein and Mother Teresa,” and adds, “cancer is not only a disease, but a mental state. Not everyone makes you feel comfortable and in good hands. She does both.”

How is Kafri doing now? His treatment is ongoing, but incredibly, last August, he ran an ultramarathon in the Rocky Mountains – 58 miles with 9,000 feet of elevation gain –to support Shaw’s research. He is also working with his care team to develop a sports/exercise nonprofit program, Supportersize, focusing on empowering cancer patients through exercise. “Training is about perseverance and setting goals,” he says. “I want to give the doctors something they can recommend to their patients, just like they’ve given something to me.”

Read more articles from the 03/11/16 Hotline issue.

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