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Jolie's Mission to Pakistan; Interview with Laura Ziskin, SU2C Co-Founder

Aired December 4, 2010 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning. Welcome to SGMD. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, reporting to you from Los Angeles.

I'm out here for the Stand Up To Cancer telethon. You can see a lot of preparations going on right behind me.

Here's a startling fact: Half of all men, a third of all women in the United States, are expected to develop cancer in their lifetime. And one person dies from this disease every single minute. Just about everyone you know in some way has been effected by this terrible disease -- which is why so many people have come here now, from Hollywood celebrities to musicians, athlete, journalist, all showing their support and standing up to cancer.

I can tell you, a lot of the money that's going to be raised is targeted for innovative cancer research. That's going to be our focus as well -- from rehearsal to show time, where have we been with cancer, where are we going, what do with we still need to do, how do we beat the odds, and how do we keep the patients living longer.

The co-founder of Stand Up To Cancer, "Pretty Woman" executive producer, Laura Ziskin, she has breast cancer. It's spread to her bones and to her liver. She's going to be joining me to talk about how Stand Up To Cancer came about and her own struggle.

Another celebrity talking about a cause very close to my heart is Angelina Jolie -- talking about Pakistan, of course. And a lot of time there, talking about the impact of floods on real people, not just the numbers and the medical care that's needed now is going to be needed for some time to come. She watched a lot of those reports and she's there now in her capacity as goodwill ambassador for the U.N.


GUPTA: You bring so much awareness to what's happening there. Why do you think people haven't paid as much attention to what's happening in Pakistan?

ANGELINA JOLIE, ACTRESS: I think people have a fatigue in general when it comes to disaster relief. But if I can say that the thing that I've learned the most in being here is that we tend to focus on one issue at a time, because that seems to be what people can observe and care for. But Pakistan, as you know, is so complex because it has not just the people from the flood and 18 million affected now, but it still has the 1.7 million Afghan people who are here.

GUPTA: Right.

JOLIE: And they've been displaced from the flood.

GUPTA: We tend to think of these places as over there, somewhere else, not here. But when you go and I was there as well -- I mean, you meet people. There are real faces and stories behind these crazy high numbers.

Raymond and Zarugagul (ph) are two people that you met. Tell me about them. How did you meet them? What did they tell you?

JOLIE: This is a very unique for me because I met this beautiful older couple who are in their 70s and they worked their whole lives. And the man had been in the Pakistani military twice and he had been lived off of the pension. And with that small pension, he built this home and his family and for his grandchildren and it was very modest to begin with. But he had something.

And now, they're both dealing with a lot of sickness and, you know, as they see in the tape there, the woman was -- is so embarrassed with her situation. She and the man spoke of the fact that he never felt in his lifetime he's ever going to be able to recuperate what he has lost, that he would never ever have again nice things, that he would never have a nice bed, a nice house, and she - they've lived in this place since 1972 and raised their children and their grandchildren there.

And it's -- in a moment, in a few hours, it was completely gone. And they're really good people. They're really just kind, wonderful, hardworking older people who will pass away most likely in this mud-covered area.

GUPTA: I think it's almost more heartbreaking to hear that they're embarrassed to tell you about it. I don't know -- you know, how that should make somebody feel. I traveled through these camps, Angelina, where I saw these kids in their tents, in the situations that you're describing, doing their homework. And being a father as well, I don't know, I just -- it really got at me because they have dreams and aspirations and hopes, and those things are spread throughout the world evenly.

What -- are you optimistic about the next generation of Pakistan? It is a young country. It has been devastated so many times now as you just mentioned.

JOLIE: I think -- I think we have no choice but to be optimistic and to have hope. I think, without that, we're just lost and things deteriorate. I think it is -- you know, this part of the world, they are -- they are resilient people.

I think of all that they've been hit with and they continue to move on, to rebuild, to trade, to educate, to learn, to -- you know, they're really trying. And they've fought through a lot. And they will continue to fight through and that goes for the Afghani people as well.

So, you know, we have to. We have to support them. And also, for all the people that are worried about conflict --


JOLIE: -- and this part of the world and they feel like it's far away, or they're not sure that they don't understand the -- you know, the corruption, or for all of this. The only way to make for a healthier and more hopeful, stronger Pakistan and Afghanistan is to help support education, is to help people, especially in this time of need -- and to not just allow for more devastation and more desperation.

GUPTA: This is ongoing. I think a lot of -- a lot of reports would have you believe that this is somewhat over, but the way -- you know, the flooding continues. In some of the parts of the south where I was most recently, there are places still being displaced.

Have you gotten a sense of the scope of this? I mean, they say the size of the state of Florida or New England. How do you -- how do you convey the scope of this to people back home?

JOLIE: It's very difficult to say to people in an interview, please care and please help. But I think, you know, we're both thinking that, you know, having been here and met these people just to say -- just remember they're people, they're family, they're lovely, lovely, hardworking people and beautiful children. And they deserve -- they deserve dignity and assistance.


GUPTA: Angelina Jolie just so informed, so passionate about what's going on in Pakistan, hopefully bringing a lot of attention there as well.

We are here at the Stand Up To Cancer telethon.

One of the most common cancers is skin cancer. And one of the most deadliest forms of skin cancer is melanoma. Imagine you had a mole on your leg and you get it checked out. But by the time you do that, it's actually spread throughout your entire body.

It's exactly what happened to a woman you're about to meet. You're also going to meet her doctors who figured out a way to treat this by trying to figure out why melanoma grows in the first place. It's an amazing story.

Also, Stand Up To Cancer -- amazing performances here. We're going to bring some of them to you later on in the show.

Stay with us.



FRAN DRESCHER, UTERINE CANCER SURVIVOR: I feel like I got famous, I got cancer and I lived just because I've been chosen to talk about it.


GUPTA: And we're back with SGMD.

You know, this year alone, more than a million people will hear from their doctor that they now have a diagnosis of cancer. And more than 11 million people are currently living with cancer.

Pam Coffey is one of them.


GUPTA (voice-over): More than a decade ago, Pamela Coffey found a mole on her left eye. A minor nuisance she thought but she went to the dermatologist anyway.

PAMELA COFFEY, MELANOMA PATIENT: He even thought that it was -- it was OK. And -- but he still removed it and sent it off for biopsy and came back that it was melanoma.

GUPTA: For the next 13 years, Coffey was cancer-free. About a year ago, she and her husband found out the cancer was back.

ALAN COFFEY, PAM'S HUSBAND: Scares you to death. You know, what do we do now? What's our next step? How do we -- how do we battle this?

GUPTA: The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, her bones, her liver. The treatment was grueling.

P. COFFEY: I had two surgeries to remove lymph nodes, 32 treatments of radiation, and two weeks of interferon treatments.

GUPTA: And none of it worked. The cancer was still there. Her doctor was out of options for her. So, he sent her to Vanderbilt- Ingram Cancer Center.

Dr. Jeff Sosman is running a clinical trial that tests an experimental drug that targets a genetic mutation in her tumor that is making her cancer grow.

DR. JEFF SOSMAN, VANDERBILT UNIV. MEDICAL CENTER: That mutation actually triggers the tumor cell to multiply.

GUPTA: The mutation called BRAF is a protein found in half of all melanoma patients.

SOSMAN: We have a drug or a molecule that can block the function of that protein. We can cause cell death quite rapidly.

GUPTA: Identifying a mutation in a tumor and developing a drug that targets it -- well, that's called personalized medicine. And Dr. William Pao, director of personalized cancer medicine at Vanderbilt says it is the future of cancer treatments.

DR. WILLIAM PAO, VANDERBILT-INGRAM MEDICAL CENTER: The hope is that will be to giving the right drug to the right patient at the right time, maybe avoiding a drug that may not be useful and maximizing the benefits of a drug.

GUPTA: The National Cancer Institute is part of the National Institutes of Health and supports and coordinates cancer research throughout the United States and abroad. It also conducts its own research -- much of it using information gleaned from the mapping of the human genome.

Dr. Harold Varmus, the institute's new director, has spent the last 40 years on cancer research. He's optimistic about the future of cancer care.

DR. HAROLD VARMUS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE: I've never seen a time of so much promise.

GUPTA: That's because, he says, researchers now have the ability to look inside a cancer cell, take it apart.

VARMUS: We can use our knowledge of what's wrong with the cancer cell to try to design better diagnostic tests and tests that not only tell us whether a cancer is there, but they tell us whether a cancer is actually dangerous.

GUPTA: But there is another, equally important element in the fight against cancer: clinical trials.

VARMUS: That's why we have to make a very -- send a very clear message to patients in this country who do have cancer and to their doctors that it's going to be very important that patients be enrolled in clinical trials to be sure that we have drugs that will be beneficial to patients now and patients in the future.

GUPTA: Pam Coffey's participation in Vanderbilt's clinical trial may help get her drug approved for countless other cancer patients. Just three days into her trial, after taking four pills in the morning and four at night each day, she says the results are stunning.

P. COFFEY: It was back to the old Pam. I wasn't sick at my stomach. I didn't have the nausea, the vomiting, the tiredness. I started getting a little energy back, my appetite.


GUPTA: And Pam there is a good example of why clinical trials should always be an option and there are new tools being developed every single day.

And next, you're going to meet a father who found out that he had the deadliest form of brain cancer.


STEVE HOLL, BRAIN TUMOR PATIENT: All of a sudden, I felt this jolt through my left leg and my left arm.


GUPTA: If you asked him, he would say the only thing he wanted to do was to make it to the most important day of his daughter's life. And he didn't think he would be able to do that. And then there was this revolutionary new treatment. His story -- next.



KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, CHRONIC MYELOID LEUKEMIA PATIENT: It's scary. It's a scary moment. You think you might be dealing with something that's life threatening and it really helped me realize that nobody is exempt.


GUPTA: You may have heard of a type of brain tumor called a glioblastoma. It's a type of cancer that killed Senator Ted Kennedy.

I can tell you, as a neurosurgeon, I've seen a lot of these tumors. And we haven't made much progress in terms of its treatment. It remains one of the worst diagnoses a patient can get.

But what if you could somehow use your own body's immune system to fight this cancer? That's where we're headed.


GUPTA (voice-over): Steve Holl wasn't sure he'd be there at his daughter Erin's wedding, almost a year to the day after he was diagnosed with the deadliest form of brain cancer.

STEVE HOLL, BRAIN TUMOR PATIENT: I'd just taken some -- you know, water sample.

GUPTA: Holl was 60 and he thought healthy. He had no idea he had a brain tumor until one Saturday morning in August when he collapsed by the pool.

HOLL: And all of a sudden, I felt this jolt through my left leg and my left arm.

MARY HOLL, STEVE HOLL'S WIFE: I just saw him collapse.

GUPTA: There was a trip to the emergency room, and there was a brain scan.

M. HOLL: I felt like our whole life was turned upside-down in a matter of two hours.

S. HOLL: And the surgeon said, well, you have a glioblastoma multiforma, that's Stage IV cancer. It was disbelief, absolute fright, despair.

GUPTA: Holl's been through radiation and he now takes chemotherapy pills every month. But he now has something else going for him, a vaccine made from his tumor.

Neurosurgeon Andrew Parsa at the University of California-San Francisco is Holl's doctor.

DR. ANDREW PARSA, UNIV. OF CALIFORNIA-SAN FRANCISCO: The approach that we take is we actually do the surgery, we take the tumor out, and then we make the vaccine directly from that individual patient's tumor. And then give that vaccine back to the patient.

GUPTA: The vaccine triggers the body's immune system to attack multiple spots on the tumor cells.

S. HOLL: Smallpox works, polio vaccines work -- you're allowing your own body to combat this cancer which is an irregularity anyway.

PARSA: I don't think that it's appropriate to use the word "cure" with glioblastoma. I think we really want to turn this into a chronic disease like hypertension or diabetes where you take medicine that allows you to live a normal life.

Today, there's no evidence of tumor recurrence.

GUPTA: So far, Dr. Parsa's small trial has shown remarkable results. More than a year into the clinical trial, none of the eight patients have had their tumors come back. With traditional treatment, fewer than a third of glioblastoma patients even survive a year.

PARSA: It's really, really encouraging.

GUPTA: A year after his diagnosis, Steve Holl feels well enough to dance, letting a father and daughter share one of life's precious moments.


GUPTA: I can tell you, as a father of three girls myself, Steve, I am just so glad you were there.

And Dr. Parsa, you know, it's worth pointing out a lot of his work is being funded by federal grants, but also by advocacy organizations such as National Brain Tumor Society. So far, preliminary results have been pretty successful, so plan on expanding the trial to many more states.

Up next, she executive-produced "Pretty Woman," "Spider-Man," and the thing right behind me as well. Her name is Laura Ziskin. She has breast cancer. And that's where a lot of this came from.

My conversation with her -- that's next.



MANDY MOORE, SINGER/ACTRESS/ACTIVIST: I'm actually specifically here in support of cervical cancer tonight. As a young woman, it's the second leading cause of cancer death of women in their 20s and 30s. So, I'm going to use whatever platform I have to help spread the word.


GUPTA: We are back with SGMD.

And I have the pleasure of interviewing someone I admire a great deal. And everything that you see in this room behind us is the result of her and her efforts and her passion over the last several years.

Laura, so great to be able to sit down with you in person.

LAURA ZISKIN, CO-FOUNDER, SU2C: Thank you, Sanjay. Great to have you.

GUPTA: I've -- you know, I know your story. I think a lot of people do. You did the right things --

ZISKIN: Right.

GUPTA: -- in terms of --

ZISKIN: You bet. I was a healthy girl.

GUPTA: What happened?

ZISKIN: I got unlucky, and I was -- you know, someone said to me, I was diagnosed very late stage breast cancer. And I remember when it happened. Someone I was working with said, what's wrong with Laura? I mean, didn't she have a mammogram?

I had -- in the year before I was diagnosed, I had five. I had five ultrasounds. I kept being told I was OK. And you want to believe you can go to the doctor, they tell you you're OK, you go, well, good, I'm OK, nothing's wrong with me.

The last time I was told I was OK, I got in my car and I thought, you know, I'm not OK. And I have --

GUPTA: You just didn't feel well? Or was it --

ZISKIN: No, I knew -- I knew -- yes, I finally was at the point where I knew something was wrong. And then the news went from bad to worse for me.

I had chemotherapy, I had a stem cell transplant, I had surgery, I had radiation, and I did well with estrogen blockers. I was highly ER-positive. I did well for three years. And then my cancer started slowly growing.

GUPTA: From a macro standpoint, what doesn't work in science?

ZISKIN: The biggest problem with cancer research in this country is that the scientists are silent and the system promotes competition and not collaboration. And we know -- going to the moon, the Manhattan Project, curing polio -- you know, I like to say, you know, cancer is like the march of times -- 1,800 Americans died from polio. The entire country -- that's like 300 more than die every day from cancer -- the entire country was invested in finding a cure for polio. We need to do that for cancer.

But our funding model mandates that the scientists collaborate and compete against the disease instead of against each other. And we fund things that have a real chance and I say within three years to get a treatment to patients like me.

If I could get any word out, it's really that this is a -- this is a real failure on the part of this country. As you said, this was in the newspaper, 1,500 Americans died today, and 1,500 are going to die tomorrow, one a minute, and we're not doing everything we can and it's actually within our reach to start to save people's lives. And a 1 percent reduction in cancer deaths is worth $500 billion to the economy.

So, when people say we don't have money, we can't afford to do this. We can't afford not to do this. I'm not going to cure cancer with a TV show, but I'm not going to cure cancer by scientists alone. But we're going to make a dent.

GUPTA: I think it was your daughter who said cancer picked the wrong woman to mess with. And I'd have to second that. I'm honored to be here.

ZISKIN: We're so happy you are here.

GUPTA: I'm really pleased to be asked.

ZISKIN: Thank you.

GUPTA: And I just -- I'm glad you're on this team.

ZISKIN: Great. Thank you. Well, you're on it now, too.

GUPTA: I am. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

ZISKIN: I really appreciate it. Thank you.

GUPTA: We'll be right back.



GUPTA: I can tell you, as a father and a doctor and a journalist, I was so honored to be here tonight and watching Laura Ziskin and Katie Couric and those final good-byes. Obviously, the goal of Stand Up To Cancer is to try and fund innovative cancer research.

But ending cancer is going to require much more than that. It's going to require you, trying to prevent cancer in the first place, talking to your doctor, getting your screening tests. I got a lot more information on this at

And if you missed any part of the show, go to our Web site:

This is Stand Up To Cancer, I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks so much for watching.