Volleyball is Leading the Way

As a daughter of someone who had stage IV breast cancer, I like to consider myself fairly knowledgeable on the disease and some of the treatment options available (I’m no expert of course, but I experienced it first hand).

However, about two weeks ago I got the chance to tour one of our research facilities and what I learned about our specific clinical trials blew me away.

For nine years The Side-Out Foundation and the sport of volleyball have teamed together with one goal in mind; fund stage IV breast cancer research in order to one day make breast cancer a manageable disease. Here is what I found.


There are billions of dollars a year raised for education and early detection of the disease, but only an estimated 2-5% of funds raised for breast cancer research overall (6 Billion) goes towards stage IV (the most aggressive and advanced form of the disease).


There is no cure for breast cancer. Why? Simply put…women with advanced stage breast cancer eventually progress out of each drug they take as their cancer cells adapt, become resistant, and begin growing again. The time it takes for this to happen is called the progression free survival rate (PFS rate) and it decreases from each treatment to the next. Meaning a patient on a treatment for 3 years before their cancer begins to progress again, can expect that their next treatment will only hold their cancer at bay for less than 3 years and with the next treatment, for even less time.

Why Stage IV?


Side-Out’s clinical trials use a multi-omic approach, using both genomic analysis and protein analysis to find the right customized treatment for each patient’s individual cancer. Side-Out Protocol 1 & 2 focused on patients who had been through an average of 6-7 treatments previously and were considered to have very aggressive forms of the disease (having progressed through 6-7 treatments means the cancer has adapted and become resistant on average to 6-7 more drugs at this point).

“No other trial in the world is using our combined approach. Your donation is going towards giving someone their best swing at the ball. We are trying to hit a home run with every single patient.”

Emanuel F Petricoin III, co-director of the Center for Applied Proteomics and molecular Medicine at George Mason’s Manassas campus.

The Side-Out clinical trials’ cutting-edge approach to personalized medicine using molecular profiling discovered something pretty incredible. By testing treatments on an individual’s specific cancer cells based on their own molecular profile, we were able to create a road map for each patient’s disease and select the best treatment fit for them and them alone.

In every case, molecular profiling guided oncologists to a treatment that otherwise would not have been prescribed says Nicholas Robert, study co author, oncologist at Fairfax-based Virginia Cancer Specialists, and doctor to both the late Gloria Dunetz and my mother Dena Kent.

THE RESULT WAS STARTLING: nearly 50% of the patients in Side-Out’s study saw their PFS rate INCREASE (per these published results).

What that means: Those patients not only maintained the PFS of their previous treatment (accomplishing this alone is above the norm), but with Side-Out’s treatment, individuals actually increased their PFS adding precious time onto their lives.

The Side-Out studies are finding the right treatment for each individual’s cancer, a treatment they wouldn’t have otherwise received, and it’s extending their lives.

Side-Out Protocol 3 (starting this summer) will use the same molecular profiling to find the right treatment for patients, but this phase is open to patients earlier in their stage IV diagnosis.


There are many sport related cancer initiatives that happen each year including the NFL’s “A Crucial Catch”, the NHL’s “Hockey Fights Cancer”, and the MLB’s “Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer” each raising around 1.1 million a year for breast cancer. All of us know someone who has been affected by breast cancer, and it is  a great feeling to see the major leagues backing the cause.

You can imagine then, that we were a little shocked and somewhat speechless when we discovered this. Why? Not because we didn’t think breast cancer funding was important to professional sports, but because with 1,000 teams participating nationwide in Dig Pink® each year, the sport of volleyball (***through The Side-Out Foundation alone: this statistic does not include those volleyball teams/programs that choose to support other breast cancer charities) is raising more annually than any of the initiatives aforementioned.  

“We’re doing something that’s significant and identifiable in this disease, and it’s all being funded by our sport. We wanted our community to have ownership of something and we did this.”

– Rick Dunetz, Executive Director of The Side-Out Foundation.


How cool is it that our sport is responsible for this? Think about that for a second. Volleyball is making an incredible impact. Volleyball teams around the country have made all of this possible.

Suddenly it has all come full circle for me.

  • 13 years ago The Side-Out Foundation was started by my boss Rick Dunetz as a promise to extend the life of his mother Gloria Dunetz.
  • 8 years ago my mother helped start a new event at my high school and I participated in my very first Dig Pink® event.
  • 7 years ago Rick lost his mother to metastatic breast cancer.
  • 3.5 years ago I lost my mother to metastatic breast cancer.
  • 1 year ago I began working for the Side-Out Foundation.
  • 2 weeks ago I toured one of our research facilities and I learned that Rick’s mother and my mother had the same oncologist.

Today I realized that all of these events brought me to the Side-Out Foundation in order for me to help, inspire, and unite the volleyball community to fund research I wish my mother could have benefited from.

The Side-Out Foundation and the volleyball community are doing incredible things and are siding-out with breast cancer. You can be a part of it too.



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