A Glimmer of Hope Teams Up to Help Women With Breast Cancer 

By Janice Lane Palko 

Someone once said that “An individual can make a difference, but a team can make a miracle.” Diana Napper, the Founder and President of A Glimmer of Hope Foundation, is one individual who has mobilized a team to offer hope and miracles for women with a breast cancer diagnosis. A Glimmer of Hope’s mission is to fund innovative programs, treatments, technology and research in order to prevent breast cancer from advancing. 

In 1994, Diana became that individual making a difference by pledging to honor the wishes of her best friend, Carol Jo Weiss Friedman, who lost her battle with breast cancer four years prior. Diana, a wife and mother of four children, promised Carol Jo that she would pursue her dream as a jewelry designer and open a jewelry business that would fund a hospice in Carol Jo’s name. Diana fulfilled that promise and more.  

Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Alan Faneca poses for a photo during the 2021 Alumni Weekend Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 in Pittsburgh, PA. (Karl Roser / Pittsburgh Steelers)

 

As the years passed, Diana realized that her mission was to create a means to support those diagnosed with breast cancer, and A Glimmer of Hope Foundation was born. The nonprofit remains a grass-roots organization with a team of 50 volunteers committed to the fight against breast cancer through cancer research and programs, and most importantly, studies in premenopausal breast cancer, as breast cancer in younger women tends to be more aggressive. 

To do that work, requires funding and help. A Glimmer of Hope’s primary fundraiser, The Bid for Hope will be held on May 14, 2022, at Eddie Merlot’s, 4 Gateway Center, in downtown Pittsburgh from 7-11 p.m.  

This is the Bid for Hope’s 19th year, and it will be especially celebratory as this year’s event is dedicated to former Pittsburgh Steeler and Class of 2021 NFL Hall of Fame inductee, Alan Faneca. He will be honored for being such an outstanding athlete, and he, as well as wife, Julie, and family will be feted for being such tireless advocates for A Glimmer of Hope and for making such a difference in the fight against breast cancer. Attendees can mix, meet and mingle with the local celebrities and past players as well as bid on auction items and enjoy heavy hors d’ oeuvres and cocktails.  

“I joined A Glimmer of Hope because I realized that I was able to leverage being in the NFL for good,” said Faneca. “My wife, Julie, and I started discussing things we could do, and then we met Diana.”  

During the 19 years Faneca has been a supporter of A Glimmer of Hope, he’s been a jack-of-all-trades. “I guess that I have been a little bit of everything over the years. I’ve sold tickets, loaded trucks, cleaned up, shook hands, smiled for pictures, given autographs, and been a spokesperson. Julie and I have been hands-on in anything we have been a part of, and we’ve always been thinking and looking for ways to help out in different and new ways,” said Faneca. 

Currently, the head football coach at his daughter’s high school, Faneca marvels at how much A Glimmer of Hope has grown over the years. “It has been great to see how much Diana has been able to grow Glimmer and the wide reach it now has over Pittsburgh and really the entire breast cancer research community. The most gratifying is seeing all of the great things that Diana has been able to do and the people’s lives that she has affected and made better,” Faneca said. 

A Glimmer of Hope has raised more than $6 million in support of breast cancer research in Pittsburgh. And not only do the women diagnosed with breast cancer benefit from A Glimmer of Hope, but also our community, our medical community and our scientific community as well. 

“I cannot thank A Glimmer of Hope Foundation enough for their sustained seed funding,” said Vera S. Donnenberg, Ph.D., F.C.P., Associate Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, UPMC Hillman Cancer Centers Research, who recently received two large grants from the Department of Defense that aim to develop our understanding of how hormonally positive (HR+) and triple negative breast cancer metastasizes into the chest cavity/pleural space.  

“Once HR+ breast cancer metastasizes to the pleural space, it becomes more aggressive and resistant to therapy,” said Dr. Donnenberg. “We are hoping to find a way to block the interaction between tumor and the environment within the chest cavity, and we hope to find treatments that can be delivered directly into this environment to inhibit tumor growth while at the same time supporting local and systemic immune responses and decreasing systemic toxicities.” 

A Glimmer of Hope provided her with funds to conduct preliminary studies to generate convincing data for the grant applications that were submitted to the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program in Breast Cancer (CDMRP BCRP). “The Glimmer of Hope supported studies acted as a springboard and allowed me to generate compelling applications that once completed will generate critical understanding on how breast cancer spreads into the chest cavity and will also provide much needed leads for less toxic and more effective therapeutic interventions,” said Dr. Donnenberg.  

Breast cancer surgeons are also a part of A Glimmer of Hope’s team, and Emilia J. Diego, M.D., Surgical Oncology Specialist, co-director of UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital’s breast cancer program and section chief of breast surgery for Magee and the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, knows well how clinical studies, science and technology have revolutionized the treatment for breast cancer patients. “It used to be that a diagnosis of breast cancer meant an expected decreases in survival, but that is no longer the case,” said Dr. Diego, whose own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Today, women have many choices. No longer do we automatically do radical breast surgery or throw the kitchen sink at the cancer with large doses of radiation or intense chemotherapy.”  

One of the trends in breast cancer care Dr. Diego emphasized is toward a de-escalation of treatment. “Every patient is different and with the medical advances in treatment, specifically immunotherapy, we can tailor treatment for each individual, and in some case, we are discovering some breast cancers that are slow-growing and are managed with minimal care. We are pushing the envelope every day, and I think A Glimmer of Hope is aptly named because today, more than ever, a diagnosis of breast cancer is no longer a death sentence. Every day we’re getting closer to a cure.” 

Also on the Glimmer of Hope team is Christie Hilton, D.O., who is the director of A Glimmer of Hope Metastatic Breast Cancer Clinic at AGH, and the breast cancer medical oncology lead physician for the AHN Cancer Institute. In October 2020, A Glimmer of Hope opened A Glimmer of Hope Metastatic Breast Cancer Clinic at AGH. The center is dedicated to treating patients with metastatic breast cancer. Many patients with metastatic breast cancer can live years and even decades with new treatments for their disease; however, in 2022, metastatic breast cancer remains incurable. 

“The GOH Metastatic Breast Cancer Clinic at AGH is a comprehensive program that centralizes the care for metastatic breast cancer patients,” said Dr. Hilton. “One goal of the clinic is designed to decrease waiting room time by coordinating multiple physician appointments, radiology appointments and multidisciplinary appointments into one appointment, allowing these women to spend more time being wives, mothers, daughters, friends and employees and less time as patients in an office,” said Dr. Hilton.  

 “Another very important goal of the clinic is to expand awareness and complete early and ongoing screening for clinical trial eligibility for this fragile population. Many women living with metastatic breast cancer will exhaust all available standard of care treatment options during the course of their illness despite being fit enough for further treatment. Clinical trial enrollment earlier in the course of metastatic breast cancer has the potential to optimize outcomes and is an important part of the clinic,” said Dr. Hilton. 

 A Glimmer of Hope also provides integrative services such as acupuncture treatments and massage therapy, which are provided free-of-charge to patients which patients note can help with side effects of treatment. 

 “I always describe the Metastatic Breast Cancer Center as a fluid clinic,” said Dr. Hilton. “We are always trying new things and working to make the clinic better and more efficient. The feedback from patients who are a part of the clinic has been overwhelmingly positive. A Glimmer of Hope makes this clinic possible, and I am fortunate to witness the positive impact A Glimmer of Hope has made in patients’ lives,” said Dr. Hilton. 

At AHN, A Glimmer of Hope is also funding research toward understanding the immune response to metastatic breast cancer. Led by Patrick Wagner, M.D., Director of AHN Cancer Institute Division of Complex General Surgical Oncology, the research is aimed at eventually delivering less toxic therapeutic options and better outcomes for patients with metastatic breast cancer. 

Diana Napper credits all those on her team—from staff, to volunteers, to medical professionals for allowing A Glimmer of Hope to grow and help so many women. “When you start something as a passion and not a business, people sense that and want to help. We receive so much support because we are transparent about what we do, focus on making a difference right here at home, have no large staff and we put the money we receive to good work that makes a difference for breast cancer patients.” 

“Pittsburgh is a smaller city,” she continued, “but we have a big medical scene here. Our small-town mentality shows in how much support A Glimmer of Hope receives, and it allows our medical community to take ownership of the research and provide treatment from some of the finest medical professionals, who not only are remarkable caregivers but also truly care about people.” 

For more inform on A Glimmer of Hope or this year’s Bid for Hope, visit the website at: www.symbolofthecure.com.