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Cancer center receives two-pronged gift

Medicine@Yale, 2018 - Sept Oct


Donors are supporting center’s new immuno-oncology effort while adding to their ongoing commitment to its art therapy program

Christine N. Moog, MFA ’03, and her husband Benoit Helluy have experienced cancer’s devastation firsthand. “My father died from cancer many years ago,” says Moog. “Watching him fight this disease was very difficult.”

“I recently lost a good friend to a brain malignancy. He left behind two daughters roughly the same age as our own daughters,” adds Helluy. “That hit close to home. Sadly, cancer affects everybody.”

With a shared interest in improving the lives of those with cancer, Moog and Helluy have made a generous gift to Yale Cancer Center. Half of their donation will fund research in immunotherapy via the newly launched Yale Center for Immuno-Oncology. The other half supports an art therapy program for cancer patients and families, which was created through a gift the couple made four years ago.

Immunotherapy for cancer treatment—activating the body’s own defenses to attack tumors—has emerged as one of the most promising new treatment approaches in decades. The center will focus on developing the next generation of immune-based cancer therapies, with a goal of more quickly transforming discoveries into lifesaving clinical care. Researchers will seek answers to many perplexing questions, including why immunotherapy is effective in some patients, but not in others with the same cancer. Another challenge is identifying patients who will be more likely to respond, and how to overcome resistance.

“We are so grateful to Christine and Benoit for this generous gift,” says Charles S. Fuchs, MD, MPH, Richard Sackler and Jonathan Sackler Professor of Medicine (Medical Oncology) and director of Yale Cancer Center. “Their vision will be instrumental in launching the center and supporting the initiatives of its new director.”

Moog’s father was very interested in the genetics of cancer. “When he was ill he would have tried anything, any cutting-edge therapy, to get well,” she says. “Unfortunately he was too early for immuno-oncology. By supporting immunotherapy research I feel I am continuing his legacy.” She says she turned to Yale because of its commitment to excellence on all fronts.

The couple’s enthusiastic support for the Cancer Center’s art therapy program also has very personal origins for Moog, who once considered becoming an art therapist herself before establishing a career as a graphic designer and professor at New York’s Parsons School of Design. “I’ve worked with children who’ve suffered abuse and was overwhelmed by the emotions that came out in their artwork,” she observes. “This side of illness is pretty much ignored by our culture. I remember my father’s physician saying there’s plenty of funding for science and technology, but the psychological and emotional aspects of cancer need to be supported too.”

Under the direction of Jennifer M. Kapo, MD, associate professor of medicine (geriatrics) and chief of palliative medicine, the art therapy program helps cancer patients and families cope with grief, fear, and anxiety. Guided by art therapist Elizabeth Ferguson, families create art using paint, pencils, pastels, markers, and other media and materials to express feelings for a loved one who is ill.

“Art therapy offers another caring relationship in a multidisciplinary approach to treatment,” explains Ferguson. “It supports patients’ and families’ emotional health, a huge component of grappling with serious illness.”

“This donation allows us to add a part-time art therapist to our staff and extend the number of hours that we are able to provide art therapy,” says Kapo. “We can now offer these services in the evening and on weekends, peak times when children visit.” Currently art therapy is available just for cancer patients, but Kapo hopes to extend it to patients with other serious illnesses, saying, “As a component of palliative care, it’s appropriate for any serious, life-threatening disease.” She adds that the medical team has embraced the art therapy program as a powerful way to bring families together at a time of great stress.

The art therapy program also nurtures the nurturers. “We’ve opened the art studios to nurses, doctors, social workers, and other members of the care team,” says Kapo. “With art therapy they find support for the emotional challenges of treating the very sick.”

“While art therapy and immunotherapy are worlds apart, what they share is a focus on care that’s tailored to the individual,” notes Moog. “There is a strong connection between mind and body, and with this gift we’re addressing both.”

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