Driven to Cure
NIH Cancer Patient Receives Humanitarian Award
Getting diagnosed with a life-threatening disease might make some people retreat and perhaps consider pursuing a big item on their bucket list. When Andrew Lee, at the age of 19, learned he had an incurable rare cancer, he chose to fight it and has since participated in multiple NIH-led clinical trials. Yet he was determined to do even more. So, when his father bought him his dream car, he turned it into a fundraising vehicle.
Humbled by his father’s gift—a 2015 Nissan GT-R—Lee started the nonprofit Driven to Cure (DTC). In 1½ years, the charity already has raised more than $300,000 for rare kidney cancer research.
On Nov. 17, Lee’s sports car, painted the bright orange that represents rare kidney cancer awareness and with a license plate that reads “F CANCR,” was parked outside the Children’s Inn at NIH, where children stay with their families while enrolled in clinical trials. Lee has visited the inn several times to show the car to excited young residents. That day, he was there to receive a special honor.
Surrounded by his parents, friends and several sponsors and government representatives, Lee received the William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award for Montgomery County, named after the former Maryland governor and Baltimore City mayor.
“You’re an inspiration, Andrew, across the county, across the state,” said Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, who presented the award. Much like the award’s namesake, “Andrew embodies the same commitment of putting others ahead of himself...The hope you give others through your courage, your advocacy, your philanthropic work...Aces up; you’re my hero.”
Franchot also presented honorary medallions to Children’s Inn CEO Jennie Lucca and Dr. Marston Linehan, the NCI Urologic Oncology Branch chief, who has been one of the doctors, along with Dr. Ram Srinivasan, involved in Lee’s case.
“By turning his illness into an awareness and fundraising tool to fight his cancer, Andrew serves as a real-life superhero,” said Lucca. Nodding at the GT-R outside, Montgomery County council member Nancy Floreen called Lee “the king of cool.”
“I think a lot of us, if we got the news you got, would be living lives of selfishness,” said Maryland House Majority Leader C. William Frick. “But you’re focusing on recovery and living a life of service and that’s incredible.”
It’s been 2½ years since doctors told Lee he had 6-12 months to live. In spring 2015, after finishing his freshman year of college at the University of New Hampshire, he was diagnosed with stage 4 HLRCC (hereditary leiomyomatosis and renal cell cancer), a cancer so rare it’s been reported in about 100 families worldwide.
“Every good day gets Andrew closer to new cures and the next generation of drugs,” said Andrew’s father, Bruce Lee.
The cancer drugs tested in Lee’s three clinical trials were developed for other kinds of cancer, so this research has the potential to help discover treatments for a variety of cancers. Linehan leads the team of NIH doctors who continue to collaborate with Yale Cancer Center and Georgetown University’s Lombardi Cancer Center on Lee’s care. Currently, Lee is not in a trial but in standard care at NIH.
In between treatments, Lee has driven to auto shows and other events raising money for DTC. He’s had setbacks; high fevers, pain and other side effects prevented him from attending some events. But through each hurdle, he worked to get strong and get back on the road.
“You start a nonprofit because it’s something you’re truly passionate about,” said Lee. “You never think you’re going to win an award, but it’s seriously motivating for the future. I’m very excited for 2018.”
After the event, Lee took Franchot out in the GT-R for a quick spin, then took time to chat with all those who hovered around the car, including the father of an inn patient who had stopped to admire the shiny piece of engineering.
Thanks to the charitable work of mechanics, detailers and sponsors, the GT-R has been retrofitted inside and out. The bright orange paint, created by BASF’s American branch, has been patented and dubbed “Glasurit DTC orange.” All proceeds from sales of this color are donated to DTC.
As Andrew prepared to spend quality time with family and friends this holiday season, the wheels were already turning with plans for the coming year. “We’re going to evaluate and rework the plan,” he said. “I want to expand Driven to Cure beyond rare kidney cancer, to raise awareness and funding for all rare cancers.”