Olympian Aly Raisman Honors Grandmother with Support of Lung Cancer Research

May 17, 2017

Nurses at Dana-Farber are used to hearing patients gush about their children and grandchildren during chemotherapy treatments, but Stephanie Ann Benoit, RN, still smiles when recalling how Nancy Raisman sang the praises of her granddaughter.

“Aly is going to be in the Olympics,” the lung cancer patient would say proudly, a prediction that came true in 2012 when Raisman captained the “Fierce Five” women’s Olympic gymnastics team. Nancy Raisman died before she could see Aly’s achievements, which include gold medals in team competitions at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Games and four more Olympic medals for her individual performances, but Aly has always felt her grandmother watching over her, and recently honored Nancy’s memory in a meaningful way.

Aly Raisman, Jimmy Fund Clinic
Aly Raisman visits pediatric patients in the Jimmy Fund Clinic.

On Nov. 14, Aly Raisman met and signed autographs for adult and pediatric patients at Dana-Farber. She also presented a generous check to her grandmother’s primary oncologist, Pasi Jänne, MD, PhD, director of the Carole M. and Philip L. Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. Jänne said the gift, contributed by Bridgestone Americas Inc., will fund lung cancer research and drug development.

“I’m lucky to be able to attend so many amazing events, but this one in particular is especially meaningful to me,” said Raisman, a native of Needham, Massachusetts, during a ceremony at the Yawkey Center for Cancer Care. “I know my grandmother – I called her Bubbe – would be very proud. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her love and support.”

During their visit, Raisman and her family toured the lung cancer infusion clinic, where her grandmother was treated, and the Longwood Center laboratory where Jänne and his colleagues are working on promising new drugs. They saw new cell lines growing in wet lab freezers and learned how far lung cancer treatment has come since Nancy Raisman’s diagnosis.

Pasi Janne, lung cancer, Aly Raisman
Raisman tours Dr. Janne’s lab in the Longwood Center.

“When I started 15 years ago, this was a very different disease,” said Jänne, also scientific director of the Robert and Renée Belfer Center for Applied Cancer Science at Dana-Farber. “There were not many chemotherapy options then, but now, advances in technology and science make it possible to see the fingerprints of each individual’s tumors and treat them with targeted therapies.”

Jänne noted that most people did not know November was Lung Cancer Awareness Month, even though it is the most common cancer in men and women – and kills more women annually than breast and colon cancer combined.

“Your presence here, Aly, and the support from Bridgestone, will bring us additional focus to fight this disease,” said Jänne. “Together, we’re going to make a difference for patients with lung cancer – allowing them to live long and hopefully better lives until we ultimately find a cure.”

That day can’t come soon enough for Raisman or Dana-Farber President and CEO Laurie H. Glimcher, MD, whose mother also died of lung cancer six years ago.

“When I think about the transformation of cancer care thanks to the discovery research we do here at Dana-Farber, I can’t help but wonder if my mother would still be here if we had then what we have – and know – today,” said Glimcher.

Glimcher said that work by Jänne’s lab had already resulted in two new drugs currently on the market that treat specific subsets of lung cancer patients, with other drugs in various stages of development.