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Family and Friends United in Memory of a Loved One

Pictured below: Christopher Steele's family and friends recently met with Northwestern Memorial caregivers and employees to celebrate the work of the Christopher Steele Foundation. Learn more about Chris and the organization named for him after the photo.

In the early spring of 2004, 21-year old Chris Steele began to experience headaches and blurred vision. An MRI revealed a skull base lesion (beneath his skull but not in his brain) which extended from his right sinus back behind his right ear. A local neurosurgeon referred Chris to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where a biopsy revealed that the lesion was an angiosarcoma, which is a malignant and often aggressive type of cancer. After a medical team ruled out surgical treatment, Chris began chemotherapy around the Labor Day weekend of 2004.

Over the next eight months, Chris received numerous courses of chemotherapy and experienced most of the difficult side effects of this treatment. By May 2005, an MRI had revealed that the lesion had been reduced by 70 percent in most areas and 100 percent in a few areas. Chris had already undergone Gamma Knife Radiosurgery at Northwestern Memorial for a small lesion which had metastasized to his brain stem, and this radiation had completely removed the metastatic lesion.

Unfortunately, by December 2005 the tumor had entered the left side of Chris’ brain. He immediately began more systemic chemotherapy, much of it necessitating in-patient hospital admission. The chemotherapy reduced the lesions in his brain, but by March 2006 the tumor had spread to his spine and Chris returned home under hospice care. Chris passed away peacefully at home on the morning of April 7, 2006.

Chris experienced a course of treatment and a progression of illness that is similar to that of other cancer patients. The various regimens of chemotherapy were partially effective, but chemotherapy is often limited by the body’s ability to tolerate the accompanying side effects. The dilemma is how to deliver a beneficial chemotherapy drug directly to the cancer site while not affecting the surrounding tissue, especially cells that multiply rapidly such as bone marrow, platelets and hair follicles.

Physicians and scientists are actively testing new, more effective treatments for angiosarcomas and other cancers. Chris’ family and friends created the Christopher Steele Foundation shortly after Chris’ passing to raise funding for this research. Much of their generosity has been directed toward the research of Mark Agulnik, MD, at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University on drug therapies for advanced or metastatic sarcomas.

Tom and Ellen Steele, Chris’ parents, said, “Chris received wonderful care at NMH. Dr. Agulnik, his staff and the entire NMH organization continue to seek innovative solutions to the rare cancer that afflicted Chris. We hope that the Christopher Steele Foundation can contribute to that effort in Chris’ memory.”

In addition to their donations to research, the foundation provides partial college scholarships for promising local high school athletes and also has donated to programs which provide support for the families of patients. To date, the foundation has donated a total of $72,500 to Northwestern Memorial, which was raised through events such as golf and bowling outings as well as a new baseball-related event called A Game for Chris.

The foundation that carries Chris’ name gives him the following tribute on their website:

“Chris truly cared about people and expected the same in return. Throughout his long illness, he was more concerned about the people supporting him than he was about himself. Even though Chris is no longer physically with us, the essence of Chris will live on through the Christopher Steele Foundation. The Foundation, through the support it will provide cancer researchers and organizations that assist cancer patients and their families, will be a true reflection of the essence of the Chris we so love.”