This spring Kristen Palma decided to buy a little house for sale on Ocean View Farm Road in Chilmark.
“We rented a house just down the street right before Paul got sick,” she said. “It was a strange coincidence that this house came up for sale. I think it was one of those things that was just meant to be.”
Paul was Ms. Palma’s husband, Paul Poth, who in November 2007 was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, or bile-duct cancer. In August 2009 Paul died, but not before founding the TargetCancer organization, which raises seed money to support scientists and initiatives researching rare cancers such as Mr. Poth’s.
Ms. Palma took over as president of the organization and awarded more than $70,000 in new grants in January. This past spring she and her son Luca were getting settled into their new home in Chilmark when she was introduced to Chris Fischer of Beetlebung Farm.
“Kristen was moving into a friend of mine’s house, and I was helping her with some things,” said Mr. Fischer. “As soon as she told me about the foundation I wanted to do something.”
On Sunday, August 5, Mr. Fischer will host Sowing Seeds to TargetCancer — a fundraiser benefiting rare cancer research — at Beetlebung Farm. Grilled fish and meats will be served by Mr. Fischer, with music provided by the David Wax Museum. The band is one of many who have contributed to The Right Track: Tunes to TargetCancer, a music download series where bands donate rare or unreleased tracks and listeners contribute what they can to download.
“Paul loved music, we always went out to hear live music,” Ms. Palma said. “I think he wanted to get the younger generation involved because we were young, too.”
Mr. Poth founded TargetCancer only a few months before he died.
“I don’t know how he did it because he was so sick at the time,” Ms. Palma said. “He was just so disillusioned with what he was hearing. He was 38, totally healthy, exercised, ate well, ran marathons, had no family history at all. And to hear that there were no treatments for someone like him was just unacceptable to him.”
Not only were there no treatments, there was little to no research regarding cholangiocarcinoma.
Since the cancer is so rare, Ms. Palma said there was a lack of support for its research and a lack of funding from major drug companies. Mr. Poth made the foundation’s first donation in 2009 to the Center for Molecular Therapeutics, which emphasizes treating patients with protocols particular for their individual case, rather than just treating the disease as a whole.
TargetCancer has also provided grants to Dr. Nabeel Bardeesy’s laboratory at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. Dr. Bardeesy is one of the leaders in the TargetCancer Cholangiocarcinoma Cell Line Bank. The foundation also established the TargetCancer Medical Student Research Fund at Harvard Medical School, which funds two fellowships to medical students interested in researching rare cancers and their treatment protocols.
“The work has been very healing and helpful for me,” Ms. Palma said. After seeing her husband struggle to find answers, she finds comfort in knowing she is helping others.
Ms. Palma said it is refreshing to be back on the Vineyard for the summer months, because that was when her husband started to get very sick at their home in Cambridge in 2009.
“These were the months when things got so awful. So it’s helpful to me. It’s a gift to be able to be in this place,” Ms. Palma said. “We came here when he was sick, too. He felt so good when he was here, like everyone feels. It’s a very healing place.”
Ms. Palma has been coming to the Vineyard since 1984. In addition to spending many summers on the Island, she and Paul were married here. In fact, Liz Kane from Cakes by Liz made their wedding cake, and will be serving desserts at Beetlebung on Saturday.
“It’s just amazing how people kind of come together on the Vineyard,” she said. “It means a lot to do something here because it’s a special place to me. It was special for Paul; we have a history here, and it just means a lot to me to bring this work here and share it with everybody.”
The TargetCancer benefit is Sunday, August 5, beginning at 5 p.m. at Beetlebung Farm in Chilmark. Tickets are $100, with a group/family rate of four tickets for $300. Tickets are being sold at Alley’s, Beetlebung Farm and Above Ground Records. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 617-765-4881 or visit targetcancer.info.