Playing for Time: Giving those with metastatic breast cancer a chance to live longer

By Sue Baldani

Metastatic breast cancer, which is cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, 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 make lasting memories with family and friends is precious to people diagnosed with this devastating disease.

“When you know that something like this will eventually take your life, every amount of time you can gain is incredibly valuable,” says Rick Dunetz, co-founder and executive director of the Side-Out Foundation located in Fairfax, VA. “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 in 2004 with metastatic breast cancer. The foundation focuses on using precision medicine to help people with metastatic breast cancer live longer with progression-free survival, which gave Gloria an extra six years of life.

“That meant something to her,” says Rick. “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 with a tumor board consisting of oncologists and scientists. My mother was actually patient number one in our first clinical trial.”

Standard level of care, says Rick, works at some level for a good percentage of patients. Precision medicine should precede standard level of care to ensure that the oncologist is making an informed decision.

“We try every FDA approve cancer treatment on cancer tissue we collect from each patient and this will show which treatment solutions will have a significant effect on a person’s disease.”

Side-Out has a one-of-a-kind metastatic breast cancer biomarker database and it shares its data with the oncology and scientific communities.

The name, Side-Out, is a volleyball term which means regaining control of the ball. It’s extremely appropriate since volleyball has been the vehicle through which it’s raised funding.

In addition to his full-time role at Side-Out, Rick has been a part-time volleyball coach in the local community 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. This conversation was a 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. They started to win.”

During the district playoffs, his mother, who was in a state of depression, showed up to watch and the team ended up beating an incredible volleyball team 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 to take on the disease. That team inspired her.”

In total, the Side-Out Foundation has raised $16 million so far, and Rick wants to see that number go way up. “Up to this point, volleyball has funded it all, which is pretty incredible. But now we want to open the floodgates.”

What many people don’t know, says Rick, is very little (about 7%) of the funding that is raised in the breast cancer arena goes to metastatic disease. That’s why the Side-Out Foundation specifically focuses on this aspect.

Of course, it’s important to raise money year round, but since October 13th is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day, Rick would love to see a Northern-Virginian-wide effort of businesses and individuals to raise funds for Side-Out.

For every $2000 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.

“My dad was the architect of our research,” says Rick. “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.”

To find out more or get involved, go to https://side-out.org/.

Written for The Business Voice Magazine in Virginia.

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