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Targeting Cancer: Light the Grill

Jeff Guisnow (center) is one of the founders of Light the Grill, a barbecue fundraiser to support blood cancer research through the local chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. (Courtesy photo)

EUGENE, Ore. - As senior vice president of Oregon Pacific Bank, Jeff Gusinow understands the importance of planning for the unexpected. What he never anticipated in his own life was cancer.

“Totally came out of nowhere,” Gusinow says. “I found a lump under my arm and I just happen to be going in for my physical. I just thought I had strained my arm exercising.”

That was 10 years ago. The diagnosis: folicular lymphoma, the most common form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s slow growing, but it has no cure.

“Your first reaction is you just panic and you don’t know what to do.”

Gusinow has always been a man focused on doing, not waiting. So, six years ago, he and a colleague started what is now known as Light the Grill, a barbecue fundraiser to support blood cancer research through the local chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“Up to this point, we’ve raised over $125,000,” Gusinow says proudly.

Those dollars are helping to fuel a growing field of research into leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

Dr. Jeff Sharman, a world-renown researcher in the field of blood cancers and the director of research at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center in Eugene, says some of the most exciting cancer research has occurred in just the last five years with the development of immunotherapy.

"We’re learning that the immune system has some on and off switches and we’re learning how to manipulate those on and off switches,” says Dr. Sharman. “And in some of these cases, we’re seeing what may even be cures in some diseases that were not previously curable.”

Every day, Dr. Sharman says more and more is being learned about how to reprogram and recharge the body’s immune system and target therapies in more effective ways.

“There’s an enormous portfolio of drugs that are coming down the pipeline. I think we have laid the foundation but really, we’re only just now at the starting point. Which is really why I encourage our patients to consider participating in clinical trials where these are available,” Dr. Sharman says.

Jeff Gusinow’s dream is that one day there will be a cure for him. Until then, he will continue to “light the grill” to support the effort.

“It gives me a lot of personal satisfaction, first of all, to do this and know that I’m doing something,” Gusinow says. “And I’m just amazed by the support from the community. It just feels wonderful that there are people who care.”

This year’s Light the Grill event takes place on Friday, Sept. 9 at Alton Baker Park from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm and the public is invited. Admission is $12 and you’ll be treated to lunch, live music, a raffle and a silent auction.

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