January 18, 2016

Vice President Joe Biden begins ‘moonshot’ cancer initiative with call to St. Vincent Charity marketing executive

Launching his recent cancer-fighting “moonshot” initiative January 12, Vice President Joe Biden asked people affected by cancer to share their stories online. Wendy Hoke, vice president of marketing and communications at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, was one of several thousand people to share her story. She was the first person to receive a personal call from Biden Friday, January 15, before his initial meeting and trip for the initiative. Hoke spoke about her hopes for the initiative on the 90.3 WCPN radio program "The Sound of Ideas." Hoke was also voted by Cleveland.com readers as the January Person of the Month 2016. She was the first recipient in this new year-long contest that looks for inspiring people or events.

Cleveland.com recently published the story of her call from Biden and her battle with cancer. Read the full story below or at Cleveland.com.

Vice President Joe Biden's 'moonshot' starts with call to Bay Village woman

A moonshot can begin with a telephone call. So Vice President Joe Biden called Wendy Hoke in Bay Village, Ohio, Friday afternoon.

They talked about Hoke's cancer.

It was around 2 p.m., just before Biden took off for Philadelphia on Air Force Two for a meeting at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine. There, he talked with doctors and researchers about a new mission: a concerted national effort to better treat and cure cancer. President Barack Obama announced the initiative during the State of the Union Address Tuesday night, using the term "moonshot" to emphasize that this will have a level of national urgency and coordination similar to that of John F. Kennedy's launch of this nation's space-exploration mission in 1962. Biden next week will meet with international experts at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the state of cancer research and treatment.

Biden, whose son Beau died in May of brain cancer at age 46, put a message on the website "Medium" Tuesday night to explain this new mission. He wrote that "if this disease has touched your life, I want to hear your story," and provided an online form.

Hoke, 48, was one of several thousand people to share her story in the days since then. And Biden made his first call to someone on that list — to Hoke — Friday, as he launched the mission.

Hoke and her husband Dan have three sons, ages 23, 21 and 17. The middle one, Patrick, just graduated from Navy boot camp. She was diagnosed with breast cancer the morning of Sept. 9, the day after her birthday. She has since undergone chemotherapy at University Hospitals' Seidman Cancer Center — she finished the day after Obama's speech this week, and cheered Obama's announcement on Twitter during the State of the Union.

But she faces surgery next, followed by radiation. She is matter-of-fact about it -- her recent hair loss, loss of eyebrows and all. Her mother, Nancy Lewis, 73, of Brunswick, has been cancer-free for 17 years since her bout with lymphoma.

Here's what Hoke, who works as the vice president of marketing and communications at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland, told Biden: "There's got to be a better way than poisoning, cutting and burning."

Chemo is the poisoning, surgery is the cutting, and radiation is the burning.

She also told Biden she's fighting this disease for her sons.

She didn't expect to hear back but got a call Friday morning from the vice president's office saying that officials wanted to talk to her later. The arrangements and apparent importance of the call made her realize she might be on the phone before long with the vice president himself.

"I really don't know how or why" she was chosen, Hoke said in a telephone interview. "I'm sure every cancer patient's got an amazing story to tell."

Biden was "very gracious" and asked about her treatment, she said. He wanted to know how she was feeling. He asked about her mother and her sons.

"He said, 'Oh, you've got a Navy guy, huh?'" she said.

"He talked about his own son," she said. "It's hard. You can tell it's hard for him."

Hoke's wish is that this "moonshot" will lead to better coordination among cancer researchers across the country and result in a fuller understanding of how cancer interacts with the body. It could lead to new and better therapies, she said.

"I know we can" make progress, the vice president said in his web message Tuesday night. He said, "Several cutting-edge areas of research and care — including cancer immunotherapy, genomics, and combination therapies — could be revolutionary. Innovations in data and technology offer the promise to speed research advances and improve care delivery."

But the science, data, and research "are trapped in silos, preventing faster progress and greater reach to patients," Biden said. "It's not just about developing game-changing treatments — it's about delivering them to those who need them."

Hoke said her doctors have surprised her by using the word "cure" and not just "treatment." But her hope for medical and scientific progress is not necessarily "about how it will benefit me," she said.

It's about "how it will benefit people after me."

St. Vincent Charity Medical Center is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System

About Us

From its Cleveland headquarters, the Sisters of Charity Health System provides oversight, leadership and strategic direction to more than 20 organizations responding to community needs in Canton and Cleveland, Ohio, and South Carolina.

Follow us on Twitter