By Connie Sorman
When I stop to think about what it would mean to End NF, the thoughts get tangled as they intertwine in their complexities. Does Ending NF mean that there would no longer be people diagnosed and living with the disorder? Does it simply mean that there would be an array of effective and safe treatments, which would make the many different manifestations of NF manageable? Maybe the meaning would encompass the ability to stop tumors from growing in the first place—genetic modification. Or perhaps, Ending NF would be ending the stigma and the lack of knowledge surrounding the disorder, making NF as known in the public eye as MS or MD or Diabetes and those living with NF would feel valued and validated by society. It would mean that nobody lives with NF in isolation and that there would be many choices for well-informed physicians to treat NF patients and approved treatments to provide to them.
I don’t know what End NF means to anyone else, but I’m not very literal in my interpretation. What I have chosen to fight for, as the mother of a child, now grown to be a young man, is to end stigma, increase knowledge, educate others, spread awareness and provide support to those living with the disorder. In addition, I advocate for research funding, I do what I can to raise money on my own and I volunteer. While I hope that one day there will no longer be people living with NF, I am realistic enough to understand that this is unlikely to happen in my son’s lifetime. Having said that, it thrills me to know how far the research has come in the 19 years since his diagnosis. The first time I heard the name, Neurofibromatosis, my son was an infant, just 3 months old. At that time, not only were there no treatments, but there were also no clinical trials yet identified for potential treatments. I remember hearing of the very first trial that showed promise in mouse models and I dug up whatever I could find to fuel my hope that learning disabilities, my son’s most prevalent manifestation at that time, could actually be reversed. He was too young to participate in the trial at first, but as soon as he was able, he did. Although the research is ongoing for that particular study after 10 years, I still have optimism about it and it holds a special place for us because he was a part of its history.
Today there are many studies for a variety of different symptoms related to the three types of NF. Scientists are working together for the first time in NF history through clinical consortium and Synodos efforts to collaborate on interdisciplinary, multi-institutional, translational research. There are drugs showing significant tumor shrinkage and are very promising to be offered as approved clinical treatments in NF1 in the foreseeable future. There are medicines that are reversing hearing loss in NF2 patients. We have the science, the researchers, consistent funding, passion, enthusiasm and incredible hope among us. We have the ability to End NF and we will. The progress is quite remarkable and for the first time since 1882 when Friederich Daniel Von Recklinghausen recognized NF by describing two cases of multiple neurofibromatosis, we are on the brink of Ending NF in the very real sense that will most directly impact those who are living with it every single day.
What are you doing to End NF? Here are some suggestions:
· Join the NF Registry! Go to www.NFregistry.org and register every member of your family who has been diagnosed with NF.
· Volunteer at a local event, symposium, NF clinic or create your own fundraising event. Go to www.ctf.org to find resources, ideas and opportunities.
· Spread Awareness! Wear an NF shirt or wrist band, ask your government to recognize May as NF Awareness Month, get buildings, monuments or bridges to “Shine a Light” on NF in May.