Karmanos Cancer Institute presents 2021 Heroes of Cancer Awards

These awards honor individuals and organizations who raise awareness of all types of cancers and advocate for a cure

The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute is pleased to announce the winners of its 2021 Heroes of Cancer Awards. This year's event celebrates Karmanos' 26th year of honoring individuals and organizations that have distinguished themselves and inspired others as they advocate for and raise awareness of all types of cancers.

The Heroes of Cancer Awards recognize a wide range of community members, including survivors, organizations, medical and scientific leaders and media representatives who champion those battling cancer. Whether they are raising awareness, providing services to help patients and their families, inspiring others or fundraising to help advance cancer research, each of these individuals, organizations and groups make a difference for those impacted with cancer.

Award winners will be honored at a virtual event on Wednesday, April 21, 7-8 p.m. The public is invited to attend. Visit www.karmanos.org/heroesofcancer to tune in. This link will be activated 15 minutes before the event. The ceremony will be hosted by Ann Delisi, broadcaster and host of Essential Music on WDET.

"It is inspiring to see this list of talented professionals who are making an impact in the fight against cancer," said Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of Karmanos Cancer Institute. "The Karmanos Heroes of Cancer Awards provide a great opportunity for us to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of the leaders in our community. Each is dedicated to the well-being of cancer patients and helping to advance treatment breakthroughs that can lead to improved outcomes – not just for those treated at Karmanos but for all cancer patients."

Following are Karmanos Cancer Institute's 2021 Heroes of Cancer.

Community Service Award

Honors an organization and/or individual whose voluntary efforts help communicate the importance of early detection, cancer care, and/or survivorship

The Dynami Foundation, Founder: Flora Migyanka
Plymouth, Michigan

Flora Migyanka is a daughter, sister, wife and mom. She is also a breast cancer survivor. After she went for her first mammogram screening at age 40, Flora was diagnosed and treated for stage one Invasive Lobular Carcinoma. After a long road, which involved a bilateral mastectomy, reconstruction and ongoing tamoxifen therapy, she came out on the other side healthy and cancer-free. In 2016, her experience led her to found The Dynami Foundation, a nonprofit with a mission to further the research, treatment and prevention of breast cancer while strengthening and supporting patients as they navigate the complexities of their breast cancer journey. The Foundation also hosts its annual Uncork for a Cure event. Since its inception, the annual event has grown tenfold, incorporating the city's award-winning chefs, sommeliers and artists all uniting for one cause: breast cancer research and awareness. To date, the event has raised $1 million. Flora also volunteers her time teaching yoga to cancer survivors for the Cancer Support Community. She is on the Breast Cancer Patient Advisory Board at the University of Michigan and the National Steering Committee for the Lobular Breast Cancer Alliance.

Compassionate Caregiver Award

Honors a health care professional whose treatment of cancer patients has demonstrated exceptional technical skill, combined with sensitivity and compassion

Michael Cher, M.D.
Huntington Woods, MI

Michael Cher, M.D., professor and chair of Urology at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine, is a highly-skilled surgeon and physician in all aspects of genitourinary oncology. He is compassionate, caring and always takes time with his patients and their family members to answer questions and address concerns. Not only does Dr. Cher take a vested interest in his patients, but he is also a meticulous surgeon. He follows his patients' survivorship and keeps a continuous database of outcomes over time regarding the quality of life to improve care. He enrolls patients in clinical trials on a frequent basis and is one of the pioneers in the Michigan Urological Surgical Improvement Collaborative, which has set statewide standards of care.

Maureen Keenan Meldrum Hope Award

Honors an individual who demonstrates commitment to serving those in need of cancer services, unite a community to significantly impact lives for the better and inspire and bring hope to countless others

Andrea Cherry, LMSW, OSW-C
Petoskey, Michigan

Andrea Cherry, LMSW, OSW-C continually goes above and beyond to be present for patients, their families and fellow staff members. She is always willing to assist patients and families in any way she can. Her focus is to make it easier for patients to get through treatments, so they never become frustrated with obstacles and give up. Andrea is a rock for Karmanos patients and staff. She provides emotional support and also assists with finding financial support. If a patient has an obstacle preventing them from starting or continuing treatment such as work, family or transportation, she will always work to find a solution.

Geri Lester Courage Award

Honors an individual, living or deceased, whose battle with cancer has been an inspiration to family, friends and community

Jeffrey D. Forman, M.D., FACR - In memory
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Jeffrey Forman, M.D., FACR, spent his life and career helping people with cancer. He worked for 35 years as a radiation oncologist and held multiple professional appointments during his 14-year career at Karmanos — including serving as medical director of affiliate programs and satellites, medical director of philanthropy, chief and chair of the Multidisciplinary Urology Oncology Program, director of the Neutron Therapy Program, and associate director of Clinical Care. He loved his role as a physician and treated every patient with kindness, respect, understanding and humor. After becoming a cancer patient himself and undergoing a bone marrow transplant, he had a whole new outlook on cancer. He became a part of the Karmanos Cancer Institute's fundraising team to help inform community members about the important lifesaving work being done at Karmanos. His passion for helping patients, informing the community and raising funds to further cancer research was inspiring.

Laurel Beth Strompel, PAC - In memory

Laurel Beth Strompel, PAC, started her career as a physician assistant in the bone marrow transplant unit at Harper University Hospital. She later transferred to work with Anthony Shields, M.D., Ph.D., medical oncologist, at Karmanos Cancer Institute. Altogether, she spent 24 years helping patients. She was a dedicated health care provider, often staying so late that instead of driving home, she would camp out on the floor of her office. She worked tirelessly throughout her career and tried valiantly to continue through her own cancer diagnosis and treatment. Even on the worst of days, she never complained.

Leadership Award

Honors an organization and/or individual who helps to bring about a society that encourages people to speak out about their illness, educates others about cancer and increases funding for cancer research

David Cook, M.D.
Essexville, Michigan

David Cook, M.D., who retired earlier this year, was the founding physician for cancer care in the Tri-City area and around Bay City, Michigan. He started in an outpatient department within the hospital formally known as General Hospital and continued his lifelong commitment to oncology and hematology patients for more than 40 years. Dr. Cook established the Tumor Registry and formal Tumor Boards as well as clinical trial participation in his community. He actively participated in the education of future doctors within the graduate medical education program and served as a continual ambassador for the importance of further oncology education within the community. Dr. Cook was a kind, conscientious and compassionate doctor who spent much time with patients as needed regardless of his daily schedule.

Media Award

Honors an organization and/or individual for work in print, broadcast or digital media that communicates an important message about cancer awareness

Kimberly Gill and Meaghan St. Pierre, WDIV Local 4
Detroit, Michigan

Kimberly Gill and Meaghan St. Pierre worked hard to produce two fantastic stories about Isaac Powell, M.D., member of the Genitourinary Oncology Multidisciplinary Team. These stories highlighted Dr. Powell's research on prostate cancer in African American men as well as his personal experiences in medicine. The features created an opportunity for Dr. Powell to speak with Al Roker on NBC's TODAY show, giving Karmanos and Dr. Powell a national spotlight. Thanks to Kimberly and Meaghan, racial disparities in cancer care have been brought to the forefront, and the public can broadly recognize Dr. Powell's incredible work.
Philanthropy Award

Honors an organization and/or individual who has dedicated resources and talents to benefit the cancer cause

The Wentworth Fund

Before her passing in March 2013 from ovarian cancer, Micheline Wentworth established a research fund, directed by Robert Morris, M.D., leader of the Gynecologic Oncology Multidisciplinary Team at Karmanos, to assist scientists in developing a more effective way to detect and treat the disease. Her husband and daughters picked up the mantle by growing this fund, now known as the Micheline Wentworth Fund for Ovarian Cancer Research. Their loyal friends and family have consistently demonstrated their love of Micheline and the Wentworth Family by supporting this endeavor with their annual gifts to the fund. The family matches all donations made through their fundraiser and has personally contributed sizeable gifts to the fund. Collectively, more than $310,000 has been donated to the Micheline Wentworth Fund for Ovarian Cancer Research. In addition to the amazing job they do to honor their wife and mother and to support the work of Dr. Morris and his team at the Karmanos Cancer Institute, they are also some of the nicest, kindest people you will ever meet.

Dr. Michael J. Brennan Scientific Distinction Award

Honors an organization and/or individual who has demonstrated leadership in either basic or clinical cancer research

Nerissa Viola, Ph.D.

Nerissa Viola, Ph.D., is the co-leader of the Molecular Imaging Program and an associate professor in the Department of Oncology at Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine. Her research focuses on the development of novel, quantitative imaging agents to interrogate tumor biology. Her important work has and continues to lead toward the development of PET radiotracers specific for oncogenic biomarkers and immune signatures. In 2019, Dr. Viola received the well-earned Junior Faculty Award from the Wayne State University Academy of Scholars, solidifying her as an exceptional young faculty and demonstrating the importance of her work.

Dr. Gloria Heppner Innovative Science Award

Honors an organization and/or individual who has proven success with innovative initiatives that helped advance cancer research

Hayley Thompson, Ph.D.

Hayley Thompson, Ph.D., associate center director, Community Outreach and Engagement, Karmanos Cancer Institute, tackles racial disparities through novel approaches to engage communities in research. Her research seeks to understand and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in cancer prevention and control, specifically screening and survivorship. Her research has focused on the assessment of sociocultural factors that influence cancer screening and she is the creator of the Group-Based Medical Mistrust Scale. Dr. Thompson's research experience further extends to the development of culturally targeted interventions to enhance cancer care in our community.

Ribbon Champion Award

Honors an individual or group of individuals who demonstrates an unwavering commitment to improving education, screening and treatment of a certain type of cancer to encourage prevention while increasing survivorship and advocating to advance cancer research

April Brown

April Brown is the director of Concierge Services at Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit. In her role, she oversees the Oncology Patient Navigation Program, which is dedicated to breaking down barriers to cancer patients' care. Her group goes above-and-beyond to help patients obtain the care they need to have their best chance at beating cancer. April founded this program at Karmanos three years ago and has since helped countless patients. Most recently, April has been tasked to organize and accelerate a cancer screening program at Karmanos. Though Karmanos previously offered cancer screenings, April thought it was important to expand the offerings since many people do not get regular cancer screenings. Early detection and treatment are critical to improving the outcomes of cancer patients. The need for screening is especially acute for populations in lower-income neighborhoods that typically have limited access to primary care. Everything April Brown does is for the betterment of the cancer patient. By cultivating a team of dedicated, caring individuals, she has touched the lives of thousands of cancer patients — in large ways and small. She continues to identify and pursue every opportunity to help those fighting cancer make their journey a little bit easier. For that, she will always be a Hero of Cancer.