Brown student-athletes and oncology researchers work together to beat cancer.
Armed with stuffed bears—each outfitted in a tiny Brown University shirt—a group of 15 Brown volleyball players visited patients at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in August, to spread cheer, play games, and chat with the little sports fans.
“It was fun to go into patients’ rooms with a bear, have a light conversation, joke around a bit, and give the kids a break from hospital business,” says Sarah Lucenti ’17, president of Brown’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and a member of the volleyball team.
The visit was just one event from the nascent partnership between SAAC and the Brown University Oncology Research Group (BrUOG) to raise awareness about BrUOG’s cancer research operations while bringing some levity to the community.
Formed in 1994, BrUOG helps Alpert Medical School faculty organize grassroots clinical trials for novel cancer therapies at member Rhode Island and Massachusetts hospitals. From the clinician’s perspective, BrUOG removes the organizational burden of conducting a trial, enabling physicians to focus on new treatment development.
“We do everything to help the investigators, soup to nuts, from assisting the physicians in writing up new treatment concepts, to overseeing clinical trials, to closing out studies for publication,” says Kayla Rosati, BrUOG’s director of operations.
“It also gives Rhode Islanders access to cutting-edge trials, so patients can be treated in the most novel ways possible,” clinical research coordinator Kristen Mitchell adds.
But BrUOG’s mission was not widely known at Brown or in the greater Providence community. “We’re just a tiny, little office, busily working to support our physicians,” Mitchell says. By pairing with SAAC, which has a community service mission, BrUOG’s visibility is steadily improving.
The partnership started small, with SAAC hosting bake sales and BrUOG deploying donation jars during breast cancer awareness-boosting “pink” football games. “In those grassroots fundraising moments, we really started to forge a relationship with athletics,” Rosati says.
After organizing a tug-of-war tournament that raised about $1,000 for BrUOG, SAAC voiced interest in visiting patients at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. BrUOG streamlined the process so participating student-athletes could simply arrive on the visit day, ready to interact with patients.
“This August’s visit by the volleyball team was a new thing,” Mitchell says. “You didn’t know what was going to happen, but it was so organic, so awesome—the students hung around, they played games, they told stories.”
Lucenti adds, “Who wouldn’t want to go visit kids in a hospital and brighten their day?”
BrUOG and SAAC have two more hospital visits on this year’s academic calendar, one each in the winter and the spring. BrUOG hopes to continue the program each academic year with the continued support of SAAC.
“Not only are we as athletes helping a great cause, but BrUOG is getting a benefit from this as well because they work largely on donations and membership fees,” Lucenti says. “It’s great when both sides can get a big benefit.”