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Cancer Research Advocacy Day

Research Advocacy Day

Composed of individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer or have a strong personal connection to it, the Cancer Research Advocacy Group (CRAG) represent and share insights and experiences of cancer survivors. CRAG's Research Advocacy Day at the I-Hotel and Conference Center will promote interactions between cancer survivors, researchers, and clinicians and honor those who have been impacted by the disease.

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I-Hotel and Conference Center
1900 S 1st St
Champaign, IL 61820


Hotel Reservation


Note: The cutoff date for the room block is April 16th and reservations must be submitted by then. Reservations can also be made by calling 217-819-5000 and referencing the “IND--Regional Research Advocacy Day” block.

Time Topic
7:30-8:00 a.m. Registration and Breakfast
8:00-8:15 a.m. Opening Remarks
Erik Nelson, Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, and CRAG Advocate
8:15-8:30 a.m. Remarks from the Cancer Center at Illinois
Rex Gaskins
8:30-9:30 a.m. Keynote Address
Yibin Kang, Princeton University
9:30-10:00 a.m. Morning Discussion
Alicia Staley, Founder of #BCSM
10:00-10:30 a.m. Coffee Break and Poster Session
10:30-11:30 a.m. Impact and Advantages of Collaborating with Advocates
1. Jamie Holloway, Georgetown Breast Cancer Advocates
2. Harikrishna Nakshatri, IU School of Medicine
3. Kimberly Richardson, UIC Patient Brigade
4. Karen DiVito, University of Pittsburgh Advocacy Group
11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Round Table: Barriers to Advocate–Scientist–Clinician Interactions, and Solutions
1. Connie Rufenbarger
2. Jamie Holloway
3. Alicia Staley
4. Sarah Adams
5. Steffi Oesterreich
6. Harikrishna Nakshatri
7. Yibin Kang
12:15-1:30 p.m. Lunch and Poster Session
1:30-2:30 p.m. Keynote Address
Steffi Oesterreich, University of Pittsburgh
2:30-2:50 p.m. Coffee Break and Poster Session
2:50-4:00 p.m. Support and Resources for Patient-Centered Research
(5- to 15-Minute Introductions, Followed by Roundtable Discussion)

1. Alicia Thomas, PCORI
2. Gayle Young, Susan G. Komen
3. Linda Schulz, American Cancer Society
4. Lori Petitti, Lobular Breast Cancer Coalition
5. Javier Macias, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
4:00-4:30 p.m. Poster Awards and Concluding Remarks
Keynote Speaker: Yibin Kang
Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor, Molecular Biology, Princeton University
KangYibin Kang is a Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from Fudan University in Shanghai in 1995. After completing his graduate study at Duke in 2000, Dr. Kang became an Irvington Institute postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Joan Massagué at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and pioneered a functional genomic approach to elucidate the mechanism of breast cancer metastasis. Dr. Kang joined the faculty of Princeton University as an Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology in 2004, and he was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2010 and to Endowed Chair Full Professor in 2012.
Keynote Speaker: Steffi Oesterreich
Professor and Vice Chair, Precision and Translational Pharmacology, University of Pittsburgh
OesterreichSteffi Oesterreich is a Professor and Vice Chair of Precision and Translational Pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh. She received her PhD from Humboldt University (Berlin, Germany) in 1992 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Texas Health Science Center (San Antonio) in 1996. Her research interests include the pharmacology of cell and organ systems, cancer pharmacology, and hormone pharmacology.
Karen DiVito
Professor and Vice Chair, Precision and Translational Pharmacology, University of Pittsburgh
DivitoA breast cancer survivor since 2006, Karen is active as a volunteer as well as a consumer of information/education with respect to breast cancer. She regularly attends regional conferences, such as those offered by the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition, the American Cancer Society, the Great Lakes Breast Cancer Symposium, survivorship programs (Magee Women’s Hospital, Susan G. Komen), and participates in teleconferences (Living Beyond Breast Cancer and CancerCare). Karen, along with Dr. Carola Neumann and Dr. Priscilla McAuliffe, wrote a Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh community grant proposal and received funding for the grant year 2015 to develop an active network of breast cancer research advocates. She served as the project coordinator for this grant.
H. Rex Gaskins
Associate Director for Education, Cancer Center at Illinois
GaskinsH. Rex Gaskins obtained his PhD in cell biology from the University of Georgia in 1989. From 1989-92, he completed postdoctoral studies in immunology and genetics at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. He joined the faculty at the University of Illinois in 1992 and is a professor with appointments in the Departments of Animal Sciences and Pathobiology, the Division of Nutritional Sciences, and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. Research in his laboratory focuses on host–intestinal microbe interactions relevant to colorectal cancer with a particular interest in microbial sulfur metabolism. Professor Gaskins serves as deputy director of the NIH-supported Tissue Microenvironment Training Program and chairs the steering committee of the Cancer Center at Illinois.
Jamie Holloway
Clinical Research Advocate, Science 37; Patient Advocate, Georgetown Breast Cancer Advocates
HollowayJamie Holloway is an academically trained cancer researcher, earning her PhD from Georgetown University for her research into the interaction between estrogen receptor expression and growth factor signaling in breast cancer. She received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Illinois and works as a breast cancer patient to work with scientists as a research advocate.
Javier Macias
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
MaciasJavier has over 13 years of nonprofit experience, supporting community outreach programs. He has been with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) since 2012 and oversees the LLS Be Your Own Advocate and Adolescent & Young Adult programs. His main focus is connecting with minority groups in underrepresented communities of the greater Chicagoland area to raise awareness about LLS and the support available to survivors and their families.
Zeynep Madak-Erdogan
Assistant Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition
ZeynepZeynep Madak-Erdogan, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Nutrition and the Director of Women’s Health, Hormones and Nutrition lab at the University of Illinois. She received her bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and Genetics from Bilkent University in 2002. After completing her PhD and postdoctoral studies on mechanisms of estrogen receptor action, she joined the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Illinois, in 2014. Her lab uses “Systems Biology” approaches to understand how nutrients and hormones impact metabolic health and breast cancer outcomes and identify biomarkers and associated molecular mechanisms driving disease in pre- and postmenopausal women.
Harikrishna Nakshatri
Professor of Breast Cancer Research, Indiana University
NakshatriHarikrishna Nakshatri is the Marian J. Morrison Professor of Breast Cancer Research at the Indiana University School of Medicine. His research interests include understanding the mechanisms of resistance to antiestrogen and chemotherapy in breast cancer, therapeutic targeting of breast cancer stem cells, and serum biomarkers of cancer progression.
Erik Nelson
Assistant Professor, Molecular and Integrative Physiology, University of Illinois
NelsonErik Nelson completed his PhD in comparative endocrinology at the University of Calgary, and specialized in pharmacology and cancer biology as a postdoctoral associate at Duke University School of Medicine. In August 2014, he was appointed as an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology. He is also a member of the Cancer Center at Illinois, Division of Nutritional Sciences, and the Institute for Genome Biology and is an associate member of the University of Illinois Cancer Center (Chicago). His research focuses on how endocrine and metabolic factors impact the progression of breast and ovarian cancers.
Lori Petitti
Coordinator, Lobular Breast Cancer Alliance
PetittiA former television and documentary producer, Lori Petitti is a coordinator at the Lobular Breast Cancer Alliance. Her interests are in research advocacy, mentoring newly diagnosed patients, and raising awareness on the unique aspects of lobular breast cancer.
Kimberly Richardson
UIC Patient Brigade
RichardsonUI Cancer Center Patient Brigade Member Kimberly Richardson is a six-year ovarian cancer survivor and health advocate. She is an advocate leader for the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (OCRA), speaking with legislators about the need for funding for ovarian cancer research and early screening initiatives. Through her involvement with OCRA, Richardson also created training webinars for survivors interested in research and clinical trials. As an ambassador for the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, she developed strategies for round table discussions on the role of patient involvement in translational research and the state of women’s cancer in Illinois.
Connie Rufenbarger
Susan G. Komen Tissue Bank, IU Simon Cancer Center
Connie RufenbargerConnie Rufenbarger is a two-time breast cancer survivor who is committed to patient advocacy and involvement in breast cancer research. Her breast cancer advocacy was inspired, in part, by her fellow breast cancer patient, Cathy Peachey. Cathy did not survive her battle but implored Connie to carry on. Connie has lobbied at the Indiana Statehouse as well as the U.S. Congress in Washington D.C. She is also one of the founders of the Susan G. Komen Tissue Bank at the IU Simon Cancer Center along with medical oncologist Dr. Anna Maria Storniolo.
Alicia Staley
Co-Founder of Breast Cancer Social Media, #BCSM
StaleyOver the past 10 years, Alicia Staley applied her engineering background to improve the patient experience for those dealing with cancer. With an extensive network of patient advocates and non-profit organizations, she collaborates with a wide range of stakeholders to help improve processes and policies that impact patient care and clinical trials. She’s co-led numerous research studies on how patients share information in online forums and seek out clinical trial opportunities. An early adopter of social media, she co-founded #BCSM, which attracts over 250 global participants each week to its scheduled online discussions. Alicia is also a three-time cancer survivor, first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease as a sophomore during college.
Alicia Thomas
Senior Program Officer for the Eugene Washington PCORI Engagement Awards
ThomasAlicia Thomas is a senior program officer for the Eugene Washington PCORI Engagement Awards program at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). Thomas is responsible for strategic decision-making and high-level management of the program, its funded projects, and activities that advance PCORI’s engagement mission. Thomas has a bachelor's in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She also holds a MHS from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Population and Family Health Sciences, with a concentration in reproductive, perinatal, and women’s health. Thomas has also earned a DrPH in public health, with concentrations in health disparities, and maternal and child health, from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.
Gayle Young
Mission Director, Susan G. Komen
YoungGayle Young is the Mission Director for the Memorial Affiliate of Susan G. Komen. She is a former Memorial Affiliate board president and joined the Komen staff in August of 2009. Her current duties include mission initiatives such as Circle of Promise Minority Breast Health Advisory Board and the Annual Circle of Promise Education breakfast, as well as community outreach, education, community profile planning, and grant oversight.
Sarah Adams
AdamsSarah Adams is an Office Administrator in the Carle Illinois College of Medicine at the University of Illinois and an active member of the Cancer Research Advocacy Group. Sarah began her role as a survivor advocate following her own breast cancer diagnosis in May 2013. She is a 2017 graduate of the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD Institute and currently serves as a consumer reviewer on the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program Breast Cancer Research Program. Sarah supports a variety of cancer research initiatives by serving on patient advisory panels, providing letters of support for grant funding, and volunteers her time with a few breast cancer support organizations. The Cancer Research Advocacy Group has fueled her passion by promoting a collective patient perspective through innovative, accessible, evidence-based, and patient-centered research.
Kelly Bradham
BradhamKelly Bradham is a breast cancer survivor, RN, and a clinical social worker. Kelly is the founder and executive Director of the Prairie Dragon Paddlers, Illinois’ first breast cancer survivor dragon boat team. The Prairie Dragon Paddlers' Breast Cancer Research Fund, the first named fund at the Cancer Center at Illinois, was initiated in 2018 through fundraising. The Prairie Dragon Paddlers serve local breast cancer survivors, educate, and raise money for research.
Kathleen Hug
HugKathleen Hug became an Assistant Athletic Director at the University of Illinois in 2002 after spending five years in event management at the University of Nebraska. At Illinois, she has overseen many NCAA championships, been sport administrator for up to six sports, served as a liaison for the band and cheerleaders, and worked with the Varsity Room. As a two-time breast cancer survivor, she is involved with various supports group for breast cancer survivors and also works with the American Cancer Society by being a Reach for Recovery volunteer who speaks to newly diagnosed patients about her experience. Hug earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a Master of Business Administration from Bellevue University.
Susan Keller
KellerSue Keller is a 1992 graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with a BS in Psychology. After over 20 years as a mental health counselor at Community Elements, she obtained her Master's of Social Work in May, 2014, and went on to earn her LCSW in 2015. She joined the Faculty Staff Assistance Services in August 2013 as a social work intern. Sue’s previous clinical positions included work with children, teens, adults, families, crisis intervention, and psychosocial education and counseling. Using a person centered, holistic, and optimistic approach, Sue helps to mobilize the strengths and resources of the person and their support systems to create positive outcomes to stressful situations. Sue also enjoys working with couples, parents, and families to creatively reach goals together.
Crystal Reinhart
ReinhartCrystal Reinhart is a member of the Cancer Research Advocacy Group and works as a research scientist at the Center for Prevention Research and Development at the University of Illinois. As a recent leukemia survivor, she is passionate about including the patient perspective in cancer research. Crystal holds a PhD in Community Psychology from Wichita State University.
James Roll
RollJames Roll "JR" is a prostate cancer survivor. His sister, Cheryl (age 23), and Lee, his beloved wife of 40 years, were both taken by cancer. JR graduated with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Illinois. He is now retired after working as an engineer, a farmer, and a computer consultant. He participated in the AACR scientist–survivor program and has been a member of CRAG since its inception.
Sue Stewart
StewartA recent retiree from University of Illinois, Sue Stewart worked at both the University of Illinois and Illinois State University for over 22 years. Her focus was adult learning, specifically creating and facilitating professional development programs targeted to staff at all levels. Her other responsibilities included assisting university departments in strategic planning. Sue joined CRAG as a founding member and has used her background to assist the advocacy group in creating a mission statement, goals, and marketing images to build awareness. Sue is a 5-year ovarian cancer survivor which makes her interest in CRAG deeply personal. Her desire is to support cancer patients as they go throughout treatment into survivorship is heartfelt. Sharing her experiences with researchers is her way to give back to those that assisted in her journey.
Renaé Strawbridge
StrawbridgeRenaé Strawbridge is a retired program administrative assistant at the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois. Her career has included moveable equipment management, outreach activities, and emceeing events. Renaé graduated with a BA in general studies from Eastern Illinois University. As a breast cancer survivor and someone who has spent almost 30 years alongside research and scientists, Renaé joined CRAG to bring researchers, clinicians, and patients to the same table to understand each other and to ultimately enhance patient’s lives.