2017 Vintner Grant honorees are David & Kary Duncan
Kary Duncan Story: “Turning My Health Challenges Into Hope For Others”

An accomplished physician and academic with more than 20-years-experience in dermatology and internal medicine, Dr. Kary Duncan knows to trust her instincts. Having grown up on the South Side of Chicago, one of five children in an Irish-Catholic family, Kary knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. “It was a calling,” she reflects, “a vocation. I knew it was the best way to serve others with my gifts and interests in math and science.”

She followed her calling, becoming the first in her family to attend the University of Notre Dame, the first to attend medical school, the first to become a physician. Over the years her instincts matured, providing insight and answers as she offered holistic care for her patients, helping them navigate conditions ranging from psoriasis to melanoma to other complex dermatologic diseases. These same instincts led Kary to one of her most surprising diagnoses. Her own.

In 2011 with three children aged 12, 10, and 9, a private dermatology practice, and husband David Duncan, CEO and family owner of Silver Oak & Twomey Cellars, Kary was in excellent health as she juggled the family’s incredibly busy, full life. In some of the best shape of her life, she enjoyed cycling, pilates, and walking. “It never dawned on me that I might be ill.”

However, upon reviewing results of a routine blood test, Kary was surprised to see that her platelets were low and the MCV, or size, of her red blood cells was increased. After excluding typical etiologies for low platelets and an elevated MCV, Kary’s gut told her something wasn’t right. She referred herself to Dr. Andrew Leavitt, a Professor in Hematology & Oncology at the University of California, San Francisco, who looked at her peripheral smear and told her that her cells were dysplastic. He recommended a bone marrow biopsy.

To Kary’s shock, the biopsy showed an aggressive form of MDS, or Myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare disease in which the bone marrow fails to make enough healthy red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. If left untreated, the condition would advance to leukemia or bone marrow failure, both potentially fatal. Dr. Leavitt predicted that she would need a bone marrow transplant in the next 1-2 years. Alone in the doctor’s office – she had not been expecting bad news – Kary, known by her family, friends and patients for her innate strength and pragmatism, burst into tears. “Nothing can prepare you for that kind of diagnosis. The anxiety of the unknown put me into a tailspin – and I’m a doctor.”

2015 Vintner Grant honorees are Rick & Elaine Jones

The 2015 Vintner Grant honorees are Rick & Elaine Jones. The V Foundation has provided a grant to Pancreatic cancer research this year in their names.

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2014 Vintner Grant Honoree – Naoko Dalla Valle

In early April of 2013, I received an e-mail from my sister in Kobe, Japan. Her 10-year-old son, Shunsuke, had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain cancer and was going to begin radiation treatment immediately. It was incredulous news and I immediately called her. Through the tears she told me this is a fatal disease with no treatment or cure. It is not hereditary, just simply bad luck. This is Shunsuke’s story.

On the last Friday in March of 2013, Shunsuke complained that he was seeing two Marios when he was playing his favorite video game. My sister took him to an eye doctor who told her he needed to be seen by a neurologist. After meeting with a neurosurgeon and having a CT scan, he was diagnosed with Diffused Pontine Intrinsic Glioma (DPIG). My sister and her husband were told there was no effective treatment or cure, and were urged to do everything they wished to do with Shunsuke while he was healthy. Having DPIG was a death sentence.

Right after receiving this terrible news, I was fortunate enough to have my friend Marc Benioff, who is the major benefactor of the Benioff Children’s Hospital at UCSF, help me get in touch with the doctors at the Pediatric Brain Center. Dr. Gupta, Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery, responded immediately and, after reviewing the scan, confirmed the diagnosis and explained why this brain cancer is untreatable. He told me if the brain was a sponge, the cancer is water and there is no way to extricate the tumor since it is at the brain stem. I lost my father to lung cancer and my husband to prostate cancer, but I never knew such a cruel cancer existed; DPIG is the worst cancer I could possibly have imagined. With all the advanced medicine we have available today, there is still no cure or effective treatment.

Two weeks after the diagnosis, I flew to Japan and spent a few days with my nephew who was already in the hospital receiving radiation treatment. There was no promise this would provide a cure or any relief, but there was nothing else available except hope to buy some possible quality time for Shunsuke and his family. His neurosurgeon told his parents, “Let’s shoot for one year survival.“ Looking at my 10-year-old nephew bravely going through radiation was one of the hardest things for me. I had to hold back tears in front of him because Shunsuke did not know he was going to die. He was a very bright child and was interested in his own treatment, telling the radiologist, “Please show me how you are going to cure me. I would like to become a doctor when I grow up and help cure other patients.” He was not ready to leave this world. Other than the double vision, he was a lively, perfectly healthy 10-year-old boy.

Shunsuke spent his 11th birthday in the middle of his radiation treatment. His parents were busy planning special family trips for Shunsuke and his younger brother, including a trip to visit my daughter and me in California. Doctors at the Pediatric Brain Center at UCSF had been very supportive, providing my family with a lot of useful information in how to deal with the DPIG. When they heard that Shunsuke was coming to visit us, they offered to see him. They spent an afternoon examining and talking with Shunsuke and his parents through a translator; you could see how much they cared about him. They were instrumental helping us know how to deliver the news to Shunsuke.

After returning home to Japan, his condition progressively worsened. By November of 2013, he could no longer walk and became confined to a wheelchair. In spite of it all, Shunsuke loved to go to school and be with his friends and lived a normal life the best he could until the end. Eventually he was paralyzed and no longer able to speak. His sad journey ended on January 14, 2014, after nine months of a very courageous fight against DPIG.

When I realized there was absolutely no treatment or cure for DPIG available, I decided to start the fight against this horrible pediatric brain cancer in the hope that research could spare other families from this cruel disease. Research for a cancer like DPIG does not receive support or research funding from pharmaceutical companies. Patients are young children who do not have the resources or well-connected friends who will rally to help. Thanks to Marc and Lynn Benioff’s generous matching donation, I was able to raise close to $350,000 since last summer, but this is not enough to achieve our goal of finding a cure. I am grateful that The V Foundation is raising awareness and research funding for the DPIG clinical trial at UCSF.

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2013 Vintner Grant Honorees – Freddie Constant, Jeff Gargiulo, Dick Grace, Lowell Herrero, and Fred Schweiger

The 2013 Vintner Grant honorees are: Fred and Mary Constant, Jeff and Valerie Gargiulo, Dick and Ann Grace, Fred and Sally Schweiger and Lowell and Janet Herrero. The V Foundation will provide a grant to prostate cancer research this year in each of their names.

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2012 Vintner Grant Honoree – Suzanne Pride

There is nothing scarier than hearing your doctor say, “it’s cancer.” It has happened to me twice and it’s almost like you’re watching a TV show about someone else’s life. You want to scream, “But this can’t be happening to me!”

In 2004 I was diagnosed with aggressive Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Positive HER2 Neu, also known as one of the many kinds of breast cancer. My father, Jim Pride, was then in his third year of battling bladder cancer. He had already endured exploratory surgery to diagnose the cancer and remove the initial tumor. Several weeks later found him at Stanford Medical Center in an 18 hour surgery having his bladder removed and a neo-bladder constructed out of a piece of his small intestine. The surgery was a success, but in the coming months the cancer showed up on his tailbone. Being a fighter he had surgery to remove his tailbone. He had chemotherapy and radiation. He was weak and sick and stubborn and not ready to give up. He told the doctors at Stanford to experiment on him. Not wanting to die he pushed and pushed them until they finally said that the quality of what remained of his life was important and he should go home and enjoy his family in the time he had left. He was 68 years old. He and my mother Carolyn were in their heyday, having founded our family’s winery Pride Mountain Vineyards 14 years earlier. Jim Pride’s “other life” was as a world renowned dental practice management expert. He was famous in his niche, he was reaping the rewards of a life of hard work. He was looking forward to retirement and all of the wonderful adventures it would bring.

When you think of fun father/daughter things to do, having chemotherapy with your dad probably isn’t one of them. Yet that’s exactly where we found ourselves one day, side-by-side in the infusion lab, with Mom staring at both of us, blinking back tears.

I also had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation at Stanford. I made it. But Dad didn’t.

Before he died, Dad gifted Stanford a large sum of money to advance the fight against bladder cancer. I’m proud to say that we were notified two years later that, because of Jim Pride’s gift, Dr. Irving Weissman and his team at Stanford had isolated the stem cell for bladder cancer, a very important step towards a cure.

And that’s the good news. Because of the ongoing work in hospitals and cancer research centers around the country, cures for every type of cancer are ceasing to be a dream and are moving closer to reality. There isn’t “a cure” for cancer. There are hundreds of types of cancers and each requires its own unique cure. This is why the work of the V Foundation is so vitally important. The V Foundation has the pull to bring these entities together to share their research and accelerate cures.

I was diagnosed with my second primary cancer in 2009. Sebaceous Adenocarcinoma. A rare cancer at the base of my eyelashes on my lower eyelid, a particularly deadly one because it spreads throughout the body if not caught. I was lucky. I caught it early. My doctor said it was the smallest one he had ever heard of. I had to have a third of my lower eyelid removed for margins and reconstructed. All I can say is that modern medicine is amazing.

I’ve beaten cancer twice. I’d like to think that I’m done, but knowing how things go, I might be back there again. Cancer can happen to anyone. It’s not fair, it’s never convenient, it doesn’t matter how otherwise healthy you may be, or how educated you are, or how much money or clout you have. It does not discriminate and it does not give preferential treatment. The key is, are we ready for it? Do we have the research, doctors, drugs, cutting-edge techniques on our side? Are we pushing for advances in these areas?

Last fall I lost my brother-in-law as well as a very dear friend in Chicago to pancreatic cancer in the same week. At Christmas last year we lost Emily Miner and her life was celebrated on what would have been her 42nd birthday. So many people have lost loved ones this year, it’s staggering. And it’s happening to younger and younger people.

We’ve got to nip this in the bud. Because if you ever have to hear those words, “it’s cancer,” you have to have hope. Hope, because you know you have access to the best care. Hope that cancer doesn’t necessarily have to be the death sentence that it once was.

We owe it to the Jim Prides. To the Emily Miners. We owe it to Coach Valvano. We owe it to the families and friends of the 1,500 who lost their battle to cancer today, and to the 1,500 who will lose their battle tomorrow.

It’s up to us. We can do it….we just can’t ever give up.

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2011 Vintners Grant Recipient – Neil Aldoroty

In October of 1993, Neil Aldoroty, MD, an accomplished, healthy, 47-year-old doctor was at home opening his mail, and read the radiology report from his annual chest X-Rays with the ominous words, “suspicious tumors observed, may be malignant”. Stanford Medical Center corroborated his diagnosis as Stage IV Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Neil & Karen numb from shock were unwilling to accept his fate and sought treatment at MD Anderson. In 1997, the cancer returned and Neil was diagnosed and battled Stage IV Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma three more times until he was given an experimental drug developed in 1993 (when Neil was first diagnosed) by Dr. Dennis Moore Jr. at MD Anderson. Through funding for cancer research, Rituxin was able to transition from the labs to the clinics to help save a precious live such as Neil. After being affirmed cancer free in 2010, Neil & Karen were able to focus on living life and after being honored at the 2011 V Wine Celebration, they were able to take their dream vacation to Italy after seventeen years of battling cancer.

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2011 Vintners Grant Recipients Robin Baggett & Michelle Fields

Robin Baggett and Michelle Fields of Alpha Omega winery both lost their mothers early to cancer. Michelle’s family has been stricken multiple times by this insidious disease. In memory of the loss of Michelle’s aunt and the stomach diseases which were incapacitating her mother during her battle against harsh chemotherapy treatments, Robin and Michelle have chosen to name stomach cancer as the area of research to be funded with a grant in their honor. “Until the V Wine Celebration, we were unaware of an organization which gives 100% of its fundraising money to Cancer Research. I have a niece who was diagnosed with Brain Cancer at the tender age of 6. Because of various research programs, she is in remission and is a vibrant cancer survivor of 36 years” said Michelle Fields. Robin’s sentiments are the same, “Michelle and I are emotionally tied to this cause, and have pledged our continued support of the V Foundation for cancer research.” We would also like to pay tribute to someone who was very important in the lives of many in Napa Valley, Jerry Stark, the former Meadowood Resort Croquet Pro, and honored member of the United States Croquet Association Hall of Fame. Jerry fought a short, fierce and fatal battle with stomach cancer in 2010. Jerry’s emails to the Meadowood members during his treatments allowed us to walk through this difficult journey with him and draw inspiration from his strength. To quote Jerry during his last few months alive, “I am still positive and fighting!!!”. Michelle and Robin vow to fight for all of those battling cancer and pledge to “NEVER GIVE UP”.

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Recent News
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