Friday, January 29, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: Historic China Cancer Conference in Southern California Kicks Off Global Effort to Save Lives

Lymphoma expert Dr. Jonathan Schatz (left), myself, and renowned cancer researcher Dr. Zhizhong Li
The China Lymphoma Project's first annual Global Conference, which took place on Tuesday at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in La Jolla, California, exceeded even our own great expectations. It was a lively, informative and inspirational event whose poignant, overriding theme was the burgeoning friendship between the people of the world's two most powerful countries, and what this compassion can foster.

As we in the United States look for ways to address the unprecedented cancer crisis in China, where more than 7,500 people die of the disease each day, the consensus among the China and lymphoma experts at the conference was that the China Lymphoma Project will save many lives in China and hugely increase cancer awareness not only in China, but globally.

Lymphoma, the type of cancer I've been fighting and writing about for 19 years, is already the fifth most common cancer in the US. And it is one of several types of cancer that is alarmingly on the rise in China, especially in urban areas where there are hazardous levels of pollution. But unlike lung cancer and some others, lymphoma remains a great mystery to most people in China -- despite the fact that it is becoming much more common.

The good news is China's government is making a concerted effort to address the problem by, among other things, recently "declaring war" on air and water pollution. And there are a number of biotech companies in China currently researching new lymphoma treatments, as well as several new partnerships between China and US drug and biotech companies to bring more existing treatments to China. But word of much of this has not yet reached the people of China, many of whom still think lymphoma is a death sentence.

The conference this week effectively represented our project's mission, which is to utilize the latest communication technologies (smartphone apps, ebooks, social media) to provide much-needed information and hope, as well as comfort and compassion, to China's lymphoma cancer sufferers and their families. 

Many people in China who receive a lymphoma diagnosis just go home and give up. With access to new information about treatments and stories of Chinese people as well as others around the world who have been treated and are now doing fine, that will change. 

An Impressive Global Gathering in La Jolla

Cancer researcher/author Dr. Zhizhong Li -- Photos by Caitlin Prenga
Among the outstanding speakers at our conference was one of my newest friends, Dr. Zhizhong Li (right), a cancer researcher at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation and writer/blogger who is hugely popular on social media in China for his insightful and accessible science writings about cancer.

Zhizhong, who is known on his popular blog and on WeChat as "Pineapple," told the enthusiastic crowd that researchers must remind themselves from time to time when they're in the lab' that all of their work is for people who are suffering.

Zhizhong is a widely respected scientist who's done extensive research on pediatric cancers, as well as lymphoma and several other types of cancer. The author of the clever and fact-filled "Cancer Insights" book that is a big hit in China, Zhizhong is in touch with the human side of cancer. I'm proud that he and I have joined forces to help cancer patients in China and worldwide.

Myself (left) and Denovo Biopharma President Xiangming Fang
Another informative and fascinating talk was given by Dr. Xiangming Fang (left), President and Co-Founder of Denovo Biopharma, a biotech company with offices in China and San Diego. She told the audience that her company will soon begin Phase III clinical trials of a lymphoma treatment throughout China, and that these trials could also come to America and Europe.

Dr. Jonathan Schatz (pictured at top), a globally respected lymphoma physician and researcher from Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami, pledged his and the hospital's support for the project, talked about the need for more international cooperation between physicians, and suggested the project should pursue more epidemiological studies on lymphoma in China.

Big Announcements Made at the Conference 

On that very note, we were proud to announce at the conference that we've just reached an agreement with epidemiologist Steve Coughlin at the University of Massachusetts' Division of Public Health to leverage recent advances in smartphone application (app) technology to inform and inspire China's lymphoma patients and their loved ones. 

I was staggered when I learned recently that China has 700 million people with smartphones, by far the most of any nation on earth. Chinese people use the phones in virtually every aspect of their lives. But one thing that is not available as far as we know is an app for cancer patients. There is very little cancer patient advocacy in China.

An editorial written by Dr. Coughlin and myself, which will be published in a respected science journal in a matter of weeks, lays out our plan to seek federal grants to develop an app for China's lymphoma patients that, among other things, describes aspects of their cancer, provides resources and information about treatment options in China and others that are coming soon, explains what side effects to expect from the cancer and the treatments, and offers inspiration, hope, humor and emotional support for patients and their families.

In addition to the smartphone app, the project will also publish an exclusive new book I have already begun to report and write for China's lymphoma patients (both in ebook form and hard copy) that profiles China lymphoma survivors' stories, including famous China lymphoma survivors such as Kai-Fu Lee, the hugely popular micro-blogger and creator of Google China, as well as just regular folks (men, women and children) throughout China.

All of this will of course be FREE to China's lymphoma patients, and will be available in Chinese and English. 

The project will also provide China's lymphoma patients with peer-to-peer counseling from others who've already been treated, access and referrals to psychotherapists, state-of-the-art websites, blogs, vlogs, videos, and a new social media site just for them.

We also announced at the conference our new coordination with the School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES) at the University of San Diego (USD), whose clinical psychologists and staff are working with us to provide practical information and support for China's lymphoma patients with regard to the emotional and cognitive aspects of a lymphoma diagnosis. This will of course pay close attention to and show respect for China's culture.

China Lymphoma Project Reaches Tipping Point

Our project is resonating with an increasingly broad audience worldwide. As I told the gathering in my conference introduction, the biotech and cancer hospital communities in both China and the US are now rushing to get involved. The tech community is coming to us, as are a variety of healthcare companies. So is the environmental community. And pretty much any company doing business in China and anyone who cares about China's people recognizes now the value of our initiative. The support grows daily.

Dr. Lilly Cheng, Director of The Confucius Institute, SDSU
We're now proudly connected with 37 cancer hospitals in China, and that number keeps growing. We have positive and substantive relationship with several American universities, biotech leaders from China and the US, our nonprofit partner the Asian Heritage Society, and Professor Lilly Cheng (right), Director of the Confucius Institute at San Diego State University, my alma mater.

Dr. Cheng, who is our project's Chief Ambassador, gave a stirring speech at our conference in which she called on people to act now, not later, and support our project so we can help China's cancer patients and make a real difference. Dr. Cheng has already made several trips to China on our behalf to meet with cancer hospital executives and more.

Support From Chinese Government Officials

Hua Liu, Consul of Science & Technology, Photos by Caitlin Prenga
There were also three representatives at our conference from the Chinese Consulate General in Los Angeles, including our distinguished opening speaker Hua Liu (left), Consul in Science and Technology. Members of the Consulate General's office warmly pledged their support. We look forward to working closely with them.

Other speakers at the conference included Dr. Huan-You Wang, a pathologist and lymphoma diagnostic expert at UCSD Moores Cancer Center, my personal cancer hospital. Dr. Wang, who is from China, stressed the need for all cancer patients to get the correct diagnosis, and noted that while there are many brilliant doctors and scientists in China, diagnosing cancer in China still has a long way to go. 

Typically, he said, pathologists in China are not specialists, they cover all diagnoses, not specific types of cancer.

Dr. Catriona Jamieson, the respected physician and expert in lymphoma and other blood cancers and Director of Stem Cell Research at the UCSD Moores Cancer Center, spoke brilliantly yet conversationally about the groundbreaking efforts at Moores to identify new ways to treat cancer, including lymphoma. She also explained a few of the encouragingly growing number of partnerships between cancer scientists in China and the US.

Conference co-host Amanda Caniglia, myself, and Col. Deanna Won
Colonel Deanna Won (far right), the retired 26-year Air Force veteran, stage IV cancer survivor, China expert, and integrative and holistic health coach, shared with the rapt crowd her experience with stage IV cancer. She was just days from death and in Hospice care, but her cancer reversed and now she's a powerful and in-demand motivational speaker and is writing a book about her remarkable survival.

Yours truly (left) and Dr. Jinghong Li
The final speaker was Dr. Jinghong Li (left), President Elect of the San Diego Chinese American Association and esteemed physician at UC San Diego who trained at Peking University Health Science Center, Beijing. Jinghong gave a charming and informed talk about her work with cancer patients and others and expressed her deep gratitude and support for the project.

Please Support This Global Friendship Initiative

The China Lymphoma Project is seeking funding to fulfill our friendship mission. To support this historic project with a tax-deductible educational grant, please send a check payable to our nonprofit partner, The Asian Heritage Society, to 10488 Orozco Road, San Diego, CA 92124.

In addition to being part of an unprecedented friendship coalition between the people of China and the United States, every company and individual that supports our project will receive extensive and positive media attention in China and the US. 

This well-written and researched story about our project ran this week on the eve of our launch event in Healthline, America's fastest-growing health news site with more than 40 million monthly visitors. This is the kind of media attention we will be receiving moving forward, both in the US and China.

The time is now, not later, to support this effort. If you have any questions, or if you want to get involved in our project, call me or email me. My cell is 858-397-4950. My email is 

Thanks for your support,

Jamie Reno
Founder and Director
The China Lymphoma Project

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Il Fornaio in Coronado: Our Favorite Restaurant

Il Fornaio in Coronado - Dining doesn't get any better than this
Quick, without thinking too hard, what's your favorite restaurant? Can you name just one that stands out for you above all the rest? It's kind of like eating just one potato chip, right? It's not quite as easy as it sounds. There are a lot of things to take into consideration when choosing your favorite restaurant. The food tops the list, of course. But we all know there's more to it than that. It's the atmosphere. Service. It's the good feeling you get when you walk in and sit down. It's the fellow diners. It's the good memories attached to the place. Hey, for some it's the bathrooms, table cloths and silverware. Some folks were just born quirky.

A restaurant has to rate high on a combination of things before it can be deemed your favorite. For example, great food isn't so great if the service is lousy. And great service doesn't matter much if your pasta is under-cooked. And none of it matters if the place is so expensive you have to take out a second mortgage to leave a tip.

Then there's the view. Surroundings/aesthetics aren't everything. There are plenty of hole-in-the wall places with killer entrees that I like a lot. But when I want to celebrate my life and family and friends and dine in style, I like a nice view as much as the next guy. Come to think of it, I probably like a nice view even more than the next guy. 

So, after that unnecessarily long-winded set-up (my apologies), let me cut to the chase: I've chosen my favorite restaurant. In the entire world. And given all the givens, it was really not that difficult a decision after all. In fact, it was a no brainer.

Il Fornaio in Coronado, directly across the bay from Downtown San Diego, gets my highest possible grade. Il Fornaio, which means "the Baker" in Italian, isn't exactly a secret. It's a chain, yes, but each restaurant is designed specifically for the community in which it resides. The Coronado location is just special. Unique. It is my go-to place when I want to enjoy a great meal with the people I care about the most. Has been for many years.  

An award-winning eatery with an authentic and unique Italian/Mediteranean coastline dining experience, Il Fornaio is quite popular, but it's not pretentious or overpriced. It is still intimate and accessible and fun and never stuffy.

But the restaurant has rightly gotten its share of praise, including the 2007 Award of Distinction by the respected Wine Enthusiast magazine and the recently awarded “Marchio Q” by the Italian Chambers of Commerce in Italy.

Il Fornaio serves only Italian and Californian wines, and also offers its own brand of wine: a Chianti and a pinot grigio produced in Italy and a chardonnay produced in California’s Mendocino County. Both are excellent.

Il Fornaio's gifted Chef Giorgio Lo Verde brilliantly melds all the familiar Italian food staples with more exotic and lesser-known dishes that will totally taunt your taste buds and make you so happy you'll start speaking in alliterations like I just did.

And for gluten-free loyalists like me, this place is Nirvana. I can enjoy the full Italian Food Experience here with gluten-free pasta, the best in town. And believe me, I've tried as many gluten-free pasta dishes in San Diego as you could imagine. Top that gluten-free pasta with the Alfredo sauce and shrimp and a salad with the outstanding house dressing, which is a bit like Caeser but even better. That's my Italian dinner of choice, especially when I am with my family and friends. It just doesn't get any better. 

I've never had a bad meal here. And I've tried a variety of entrees. Try the Meatball, mushroom, and polenta dish. Specialties include homemade pastas, pizzas from an oak wood burning oven, wood-fired rotisserie and grilled meats, poultry and game; fresh salads and housemade soups, a wide variety of delicious desserts, and fresh bread made daily in the restaurant's own bakery. 

Another thing I love about Il Fornaio in Coronado is Festa Regionale, a winning idea that introduces diners to a variety of foods indigenous to various parts of Italy. Yep, Italian food is just like American food in that it's regional and diverse. It varies widely in each of the country's 20 regions.  Each month represents a different region of Italy. You can learn a bit of Italian history, geography and culture without having to take the 13-hour flight. It's been a popular feature at the restaurant for two decades. All you have to do is sign up for the restaurant's Passaporto program.

If the food wasn't so delicious, Il Fornaio's location would be its greatest asset. It's spectacular. Arguably the nicest location of any restaurant in America. Back when I visited New York a lot for my work, I was partial to the Windows on the World restaurant atop the North Tower of the World Trade Center. That was truly a view from Heaven, but of course sadly and tragically it no longer exists.

Il Fornaio overlooks San Diego Bay and offers the perfect view of San Diego's ever-improving Downtown skyline. Sitting in this restaurant looking out at the boats going by on the bay and seeing the sun glisten off the Downtown buildings just reminds that San Diego really is still America's Finest City.

Il Fornaio also has excellent service. The waiters -- seems there are more men than women serving here, not sure if that's an Italian thing or what -- are all personable, helpful and easy going. They all seem like they really want to be there. And here's a novelty for an Italian restaurant in San Diego: some of them are actually Italian!

And this is all of course a reflection of the enlightened management of Luca Allieri, who goes out of his way to make sure your dining experience is a memorable one. He's a class act, a pro who just knows how to make diners feel welcome. 

The setting at Il Fornaio is casual classy, with beautifully stained wood, floor-to-ceiling windows and white tablecloths and indoor as well as outdoor seating. And the atmosphere is pure joy. This is an an "event" kind of place without ever being too loud or annoying. People come here to celebrate life. Graduations. Marriages. Love. Friendship. Family. In fact, I'm going to be celebrating my life and my family at Il Fornaio in Coronado this Thanksgiving. 



Coronado's Ferry Landing: After we dine at Il Fornaio, we'll probably take a short walk along the water to the Coronado Ferry Landing, the charming village of shops, clothing stores, art galleries and more along the water. It's a pleasant way to walk off the food and top off the perfect evening spent at my favorite restaurant in the world. What more could you ask for?