Debbie Birns, a hotline coordinator for the International Myeloma Foundation, recently paid a visit to AMEN. Debbie joined the IMF after years as a cancer information specialist for the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. When that office closed, she moved to the Clinical Research Unit at UCLA’s division of hematology/oncology, and helped set up and coordinate cancer clinical trials at UCLA. Although the work was interesting, she missed having contact with cancer patients and their families, and was delighted when she heard that the IMF was searching for a professional to set up their hotline.
In her current capacity as co-coordinator of the IMF hotline, she is one of the three knowledgeable and friendly information specialists who address myeloma-related questions and guide patients through the maze of myeloma information. Debbie’s past experience with clinical trials enables her to research and update the IMF’s Myeloma Matrix, a compendium of the many studies with new drugs and combinations of drugs currently in clinical trials for myeloma patients. She is also the IMF’s in-house editor and proofreader. Debbie is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University, and did her graduate work in comparative literature at UCLA. In her past life, she was a manuscript editor for the University of California Press.
Mrs. Birns was my first connection between the IMF and AMEN. Though far away, she followed AMEN's first steps closely and helped with advice when needed.
It was therefore most natural that when she announced she would be visiting Israel in November, we planned meetings with important leaders in the cancer and myeloma communities in Israel to coincide with her time here.
Debbie joined Mati Raviv and me as we conferred with Mrs.Miri Ziv, director general of the Israeli Cancer Assosciation. Miri shared her insights into the general situation of cancer in Israel, and we discussed the special efforts that must be made to introduce new drugs for myeloma into Israel’s health basket, as it is called there. The health basket includes all medical coverage provided by the government for Israeli citizens.
Mrs. Birns emphasized the importance of Velcade, an anti-myeloma drug that is used worldwide in various regimens, and reported the very good results of Velcade therapy and the great hopeit provides for MM patients. Velcade is a candidate for the health basket this year and Debbie emphasized that it is most important to do everything possible to ensure that it is included.
A very exciting event was the meeting with Israeli parliament (or Knesset) member Ariella Golan on Tuesday, November 15th. Ms. Golan was preparing to present her bill to create a national data base for bone marrow donors to the Knesset. She had a great deal of interest in myeloma and we provided her with materials about the disease and about AMEN.
On the way back from Jerusalem we hurried to our meeting with Dr. Izhar Hardan, coordinator and manager of MM services at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer and secretary of the Israeli Myeloma Study Group. Dr. Hardan showed Mrs. Birns the facilities in the medical center, they exchanged information about osteonecrosis of the jaws and several clinical studies,. and Mrs. Birns was briefed by him on the importance of the Israeli Myeloma Study Group and the progress made so far. The meeting went on until almost 10 o’clock at night, and everybody was tired but full of excitement about progress to be expected in the future for MM patients.
Professor Aaron Polliack of Hadassah Hospital, the medical adviser of AMEN, known worldwide and by many doctors who are involved with the IMF,
honored us with his presence at lunch in Tel Aviv and from there we rushed off to the seminar at Hadassah En Karem (see separate article).
Professor Dina Ben-Yehuda, head of the hematology department at Hadassah En Karem and the chairman of the Israeli Myeloma Study Group, welcomed Debbie most warmly (which certainly is characteristic of this wonderful woman and caring physician) and made her feel like part of us.
Though Debbie followed us step by step during the founding of AMEN, there is no doubt that the past days in our country gave her the full picture of what AMEN is about and we hope she will bring the message back with her to the IMF.