WebMD Honors Health Heroes Fighting Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on January 15, 2019
7 min read

Jan. 16, 2019 -- From research to patient care, from prevention to fundraising, WebMD’s 2018 Health Heroes have left their mark on the fight against cancer in ways large and small.

For some, their work brought them the limelight. Others brought their fame to the cause. All were honored Jan. 15 at WebMD’s New York City headquarters. It’s the 12th year in a row the company has recognized people who found or forced a way to improve health outcomes for patients and families.

Filmmaker, advocate, and cancer survivor Sandra Lee and Amy Robach, a cancer survivor, 20/20 co-anchor, and ABC News correspondent, hosted the event.

“At WebMD, we help millions of people make decisions and feel more confident as they navigate the health care system. The Heroes we’re honoring today share our passion,” WebMD CEO Bob Brisco said.

Actor Kathy Bates, who won a Best Actress Oscar in 1991 for her role in “Misery,” knows a little about that topic. She survived ovarian cancer, only to be diagnosed with breast cancer less than a decade later. The removal of nearly two dozen lymph nodes left her with lymphedema, which swelled her arms to nearly twice their size.

Her experience led her to become a spokeswoman for the Lymphatic Education & Research Network, where she has worked to educate medical professionals about lymphedema.

At Tuesday’s ceremony, Bates praised the other winners for their contributions to science and research.

“I stand here as someone who doesn’t have a medical degree, but I do have something uniquely powerful -- we all do -- and that’s our voice,” she said. “By sharing our stories, advocating for each other, and raising awareness, we are all making a difference every day.”

James P. Allison, PhD, is chair of the department of immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at Houston’s renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center. This past year,

he gained an even more impressive title: Nobel laureate. Allison, along with Japanese immunologist Tasuku Honjo, MD, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their groundbreaking work on T cells and how these warrior cells can be “turned on” to attack cancer cells.

Their work has led to new drugs that are now being used to treat all kinds of cancers.

“As a basic scientist, I have been blessed to see my research findings translate into a powerful new strategy for cancer therapy,” Allison said.

Over the years, he said, he’s been able to meet many patients who benefited from his research.

“It’s always overwhelming, and my emotions often get in the way, get the better of me,” he said.

Margaret Cuomo, MD, did not follow in her family’s footsteps. She's the daughter of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and sister of that state's current governor, Andrew Cuomo. Instead of pursuing politics, she became a pioneer in radiology.

Frustrated with watching young patients die, Cuomo turned her attention to cancer prevention instead. Her 2013 book, A World Without Cancer, details all the ways individuals can try to prevent the diagnosis

The work to stop cancer is not hers alone, Cuomo said.

“My role is to empower you all to become your own Health Heroes,” she said. “We can all reduce our risk for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease” by choosing healthier lifestyles.

“We can teach our children how to live healthier lives, and advocate for healthier foods in schools and fast-food restaurants,” Cuomo said.

Elizabeth Jaffee, MD, has been around cancer a lot in her life. An uncle died of lung cancer when she was young. And she spent her undergraduate years at Brandeis University studying the way the body’s own defense systems can be used to fight disease.

She saw chemotherapy’s usefulness but rejected its toxic costs. Instead, Jaffee sought therapies that would help patients kick cancer without the debilitating effects of chemo. Now a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, she holds six cancer vaccine patents that have helped fight the automatic death sentence that came with many types of cancer.

Treating and preventing cancer is not enough, Jaffee said. “It is critical that our treatments do no harm. I have been committed to developing treatments that are safe and effective, and provide good quality of life.”

Veteran nurse Lillie Shockney was the administrative director of Johns Hopkins’ Breast Center and the Baltimore hospital’s Cancer Survivorship Programs.

She was already a decade into her tenure as a research nurse in a Hopkins brain cancer center when she had a double mastectomy after her own cancer diagnosis. Her experience helped her realize hospitals were more focused on treating cancer than treating patients.

Now, she helps women with metastatic breast cancer plan for their future.

“I want their quality of life preserved and not forfeited. I want them to not postpone joy,” Shockney said. “I want them to find something funny to laugh at every day. I want them to know they are not alone on this journey filled with uncertainty.

“And when their time comes to leave this world, I want them to experience a peaceful death with having achieved full closure with their family and with themselves.”

Rufus Wainwright is a musical triple threat. A singer, songwriter, and composer, he is also the son of Canadian folk singer Kate McGarrigle, who died in 2010 from a rare but deadly cancer known as clear cell sarcoma.

Before she died, McGarrigle began to raise money for sarcoma research. After her death, Wainwright rolled that work into the Kate McGarrigle Foundation and has partnered with Stand Up To Cancer to fund music therapy for cancer patients.

In addition to being honored this week, Wainwright also performed.

“Yes, I want a cure for cancer,” Wainwright said. “But I also want to celebrate both those in the midst of battle and those who have fallen for the vast wealth they give to others not physically embroiled in this terrible illness.

“The celebration of everything is what keeps me wanting to fight, the triumphs, the tragedies, the hopes and fears, basically the gift my mother gave me after she died, the gift of manhood.”

Karen M. Winkfield, MD, PhD, is a radiation oncologist and is the director of the Office of Cancer Health Equity at Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center in Winston-Salem, NC. Her husband’s experience with an uncaring doctor after being diagnosed with diabetes prompted Winkfield to make patient care and advocacy a focus.

Being told you have cancer, or any life-threatening disease, is a terrible experience. It shouldn’t, she says, be delivered coldly or callously.

Winkfield also has made workplace diversity a primary focus. Giving patients an opportunity to be cared for by people who look like them or share cultural experiences can be important.

“Over the past two decades, we have made tremendous progress and are in fact curing cancers,” Winkfield said. “However, not everyone has benefited equally from these advances. Black Americans have the highest cancer incidence and, along with American Indian/Alaskan Native populations, have the highest mortality rates in the country.

“My work aims to understand and address barriers along the cancer continuum, from prevention to survivorship, that contribute to these disparate outcomes.”

WebMD also presented a contribution in the winners’ names to Stand Up To Cancer.