Oct 23, 2018
The Brandon C. Gromada Head & Neck Cancer Foundation was founded by Dr. Joseph and Karen Gromada on June 3, 2012, the day after their oldest son, Brandon, died of aggressive poorly differentiated squamous cell carcinoma. To honor their son’s memory and advance the foundation’s mission of increasing awareness of and raising research funds for head and neck cancers, the Gromadas funded a 2018 Young Investigator Award (YIA) with ASCO’s Conquer Cancer Foundation.
The YIA is a tribute to Brandon, a Cincinnati, OH, native who lived a very active life and enjoyed running, tennis, spelunking, repelling, skydiving, skiing, snowboarding, and other sports. He also enjoyed spending time with friends and family and sharing his gift for gourmet cooking and enthusiasm for learning about wine.
In 2009, Brandon was newly engaged and planning his wedding when he started having frequent nosebleeds. The doctors found nasal polyps, which were later surgically removed from his right maxillary sinus. The routine pathology reports revealed squamous cell carcinoma. What should have been a joyous time for Brandon was, instead, marred by fittings for a radiation mask and an aggressive regimen of radiation and chemotherapy, which caused severe burns, loss of taste, and other unpleasant side effects.
Mrs. Gromada described the treatments designed to save Brandon’s life as “brutal,” but says there were also several “mini-miracle” moments when life was good and they could almost forget about the cancer: Brandon’s wedding to Christina and their honeymoon; his sister’s 2011 wedding; a special trip to a Paul McCartney concert; and the birth of his baby daughter, Morgan.
The treatments seemed to work, at least for a short time, but the cancer kept returning. Eventually, Brandon’s doctors ran out of treatment options.
The Brandon C. Gromada Head & Neck Cancer Foundation website displays a quote reflecting the remarkable courage and determination Brandon showed during his journey: “We can’t, we won’t, and we don’t stop.” This quote is inspired by the refrain from a popular Beastie Boys song, made even more significant since Brandon was a huge fan of the band and its founding member, Adam Yauch, was also diagnosed with head and neck cancer; Mr. Yauch died 4 weeks before Brandon.
The Brandon C. Gromada Head & Neck Cancer Foundation is supporting the research of Devarati Mitra, MD, PhD, of Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Her 2018 YIA project seeks to understand why most patients with head and neck cancer do not respond to immunotherapy and investigates if radiation therapy can be used as a tool to help overcome treatment resistance. Ultimately, Dr. Mitra hopes these studies will inform how radiation therapy may be best combined with anti-PD1 treatment to maximize disease response rates.
“We are most interested in funding innovative research, which often comes from the minds of younger researchers who are able to think out of the box,” said Mrs. Gromada. “The grants we are funding help to get promising research off the ground so that it will qualify for larger grants down the road. I just want to see this disease gone so that other families don’t have to deal with this. Brandon was an adult, and he has been gone 6 years, and it doesn’t get any easier. We have to find better treatments that can eliminate this disease without the long-term side effects.”
“Conquer Cancer is honored to partner with the Brandon C. Gromada Head & Neck Cancer Foundation to support young researchers doing innovative and cutting-edge head and neck cancer research,” said Nancy R. Daly, MS, MPH, executive vice president and chief philanthropic officer of Conquer Cancer. “We are very grateful for the generous support of Dr. Mitra’s research and hope it will lead to more effective treatments for patients and families dealing with this devastating disease.”