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We Honor Our 2022 MPN Heroes

You nominated them for making a difference in the lives of people living with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). Their actions made them heroes. Hear their personal stories and learn why the 2022 MPN Heroes were acknowledged for their commitment to MPN care.

Image of Ghaith Abu-Zeinah—MD




A passionate, tireless champion for MPN research and treatment, Ghaith Abu-Zeinah, MD, is dedicated to helping people living with MPNs. Dr. Abu-Zeinah makes time to inspire his patients and connect with them as individuals. In addition to the important work of treating patients, Dr. Abu-Zeinah performs cutting-edge research into the science of MPNs.

Outside of the clinic, Dr. Abu-Zeinah has worked with the Cancer Research & Treatment Fund Medical Advisory Board to help evolve the Richard T. Silver, MD Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, increase MPN-related referrals, and develop annual patient symposiums for people with MPNs. He lends his expertise to patient-focused videos to break down how MPNs work and how they can impact people. Dr. Abu-Zeinah has also recorded a podcast to examine how living with the daily struggles of an MPN may affect a person’s mindset and psychological well-being.

Image of Mayra D. Andújar Delgado—Patient Advocate


Patient Advocate


Mayra D. Andújar Delgado is a fierce advocate for patients in the MPN community. Her journey began on Cinco de Mayo 2015, after she experienced troubling symptoms. When she was officially diagnosed with myelofibrosis (MF) in November 2016, Mayra made it her mission to learn as much as possible about the rare, chronic blood cancer. She now shares her knowledge to help raise MPN awareness. “We may be a small group, but our voice can make a big difference.”

Mayra’s strong voice in the Latino community and elsewhere in Central Florida can be heard on the radio, social media, in support groups, and at local 5K runs in which she participates. Mayra champions the idea that talking about cancer doesn't make someone a victim or a weak person. On the contrary, it makes them strong for sharing their experiences to help others. She is a guiding light in her community, reminding patients of the ongoing clinical research and abundant educational resources that are available to help support people living with MPNs.

Image of Stephen Applebaum—MD




Hematologist and oncologist Dr. Steven Applebaum trains to run marathons in his free time. This hobby helps him understand that the MPN journey isn’t a simple sprint. It’s a long road with twists and turns that takes a lot of hard work and planning. Dr. Applebaum helps his patients prepare to keep the pace on their own treatment journeys.

Dr. Applebaum takes a holistic and down-to-earth approach with his patients. He makes a point to help people understand complex medical data and how the science relates to their treatment on a human level. In addition to providing important medical insight, Dr. Applebaum takes time to find out about the personal lives of his patients. He is a dedicated MPN Specialist who reminds his patients that living with an MPN does not have to come at the expense of living a full life. Dr. Applebaum believes in finding ownership over the treatment journeys and helping people living with MPNs develop a personal investment in their own health.

Image of Justine Hallahan—Caregiver




Justine Hallahan knows the importance of normalcy and selfless support when caring for someone with polycythemia vera (PV). When her mother’s life partner, Matt, was diagnosed with PV, Justine came to his aid as a caregiver Monday through Friday when her mother was at work. She was determined to ensure that Matt did not feel defined by his disease. Instead, they would cook together, watch movies, spend time with the family, and enjoy other lighthearted activities.

Justine would often drive Matt to healthcare appointments and run errands together. She was always there for Matt, to laugh together and cry together through the good times and the hardest moments. As Justine continued to take care of Matt, she and her mother learned more about PV from his Healthcare Professionals and the resources available on Voices of MPN. Through appointments and day-to-day activities, Justine took pride in helping Matt to feel like his most authentic self.

Image of Natasha Johnson—APRN




As an Advanced Oncology Nurse Practitioner at Moffitt Cancer Center, Natasha Johnson cares for people living with MPNs. Natasha’s kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity with her time are a highlight for patients and families at the malignant hematology clinic. After losing her first husband to cancer, Natasha developed insights into the toll that cancer can take on a person’s life.

Natasha’s philosophy for treating her patients stems from her understanding that they can experience a multitude of daily physical and emotional stresses because of their illness. In addition to caring for people living with MPNs, Natasha speaks at conferences and educates other Healthcare Professionals about MPN care, treatment, and research. Natasha is also active with the senior members of her church, taking the time to visit, transport, and cook for elderly individuals.

Image of Jessica Kuhns—Patient Advocate


Patient Advocate


Jessica Kuhns’ life changed completely when she was diagnosed with an unspecified MPN in 2016. Worried about her family’s future, Jessica decided to meet her challenge with a new mindset: “I can keep being miserable or I can be positive, and being miserable didn’t get me anywhere!” With her positive attitude, Jessica buckled down to take on life with an MPN.

Since her diagnosis, Jessica has joined online support groups and has participated in multiple fundraisers for MPN research and patient support. Jessica shares her own MPN experiences openly on social media because she wants to raise awareness of what it means to live day to day with an MPN. She regularly counsels people dealing with the difficulties created by living with a chronic illness. Speaking from her own experience, Jessica believes that she has had an important impact on the world if she’s helped even one person feel less alone on their MPN journey.

Image of Naveen Pemmaraju—MD




Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju is a true leader in the research and treatment of MPNs at MD Anderson Cancer Center. He tries to be the change he wishes to see in the world—reminding patients and colleagues that although MPNs are a group of rare diseases, they are not rare to people who are impacted by them. He wants his patients to know that they are not alone. There are many committed Healthcare Professionals who work tirelessly to advance MPN research and patient care.

Dr. Pemmaraju’s advocacy in the MPN community extends beyond the lab and hospital. He raises awareness of helpful educational material and resources on Twitter because he believes social media enables researchers and clinicians to quickly share the latest MPN information. Dr. Pemmaraju strives to improve the treatment of MPNs, and to elevate the quality of care for his patients and their family members through his advocacy, education, and support activities.

Image of Raajit Rampal—MD, PhD




Dr. Raajit Rampal is a hematologist-oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where he specializes in the treatment of MPNs and leukemia. Through his clinical research and a determination to provide the best possible patient care, Dr. Rampal is committed to improving the outcomes of people affected by these blood cancers. He aims to equip patients with the information they need to take an active role in their care.

He also serves as the Scientific Advisor for the MPN Research Foundation, where he further supports the research community by providing insights and new ideas for research that may be clinically relevant. Dr. Rampal gives hope to patients in the MPN community by explaining that there is highly collaborative work underway to advance the science of MPN understanding, care, and treatment.

2022 Judging Panel

An independent judging panel reviewed the nominations and selected the recipients for recognition. The panel consisted of:

Image of Nicole Kucine—MD, MS



Nicole Kucine, MD, MS, is a pediatric hematologist/oncologist with a special interest in MPNs in young patients.

She completed her pediatric residency and chief resident year at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey. Dr. Kucine then completed her pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship at the combined program of Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. She then completed an additional research year at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center before starting on the faculty at Weill Cornell Medicine in 2011.

Dr. Kucine received a KL2 award and received her Master’s in Clinical and Translational Science from the Weill Cornell Medicine Clinical and Translational Science Center in 2015 and was awarded a K23 award from the NHLBI/NIH for her work in pediatric MPNs.

Dr. Kucine directs a unique clinical and research program in pediatric MPNs and sees patients from around the United States. She is involved in research evaluating clinical outcomes and treatments for children with MPNs and is also working with colleagues at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to study the underlying mechanisms of MPNs in our youngest patients.

Image of Amy Lane – Patient Advocate


Patient Advocate

Amy Lane is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Senior Information Specialist in the Information Resource Center at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society where she has been assisting blood cancer patients and families since 2016.

Amy began her career as an inpatient hospital social worker in the Bronx in the Trauma, ICU, and Burn Units at Jacobi Medical Center. She then spent 15 years at Weill Cornell Medical College where she was the Assistant Director of Grants and Contracts. With her desire to do more clinical counseling she found herself accepting a position with LLS. The choice was also personal as Amy’s brother is a childhood ALL survivor. Now that she is working for LLS, she finds it very fulfilling to have the ability to support patients, caregivers, and their families.

Amy has served on several MPN advisory committees and is involved in various MPN initiatives. She was recognized as a 2021 MPN Hero for her work as a Patient Advocate within the MPN Community. She felt honored to be one of the recipients, as it represents the importance of the collaborations between healthcare professionals, patients, and caregivers.

Amy received her Bachelor’s in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh and her Master’s in Clinical Social Work from Fordham University. She also has a Master’s in Business Administration from Pace University. She enjoys spending her free time with her 8-year-old son and husband.

Image of Jessica Neely—Physician Assistant


Physician Assistant

Jessica Neely is a physician assistant working with people living with myeloproliferative neoplasms at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. After graduating in 1998, Ms. Neely worked in the Bone Marrow Transplant Program at Emory Winship Cancer Institute. From 2000 to 2002, she worked with colorectal, breast cancer, and sarcoma patients in surgical oncology at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. In 2002 she returned to Winship Cancer Institute of Emory in the Department of Hematology where she has been working for the past 20 years – 10 of which have been alongside Dr. Elliott Winton with a focus on MPNs.

Ms. Neely enjoys developing long-lasting relationships with her patients and their families and making herself accessible round the clock to help overcome obstacles her patients face related to their MPNs. Jessica is known for giving each patient the care that she would provide a friend or family member.

Jessica completed her undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Georgia and went on to attend Emory University’s Physician’s Assistant Program.

Outside of work, Jessica enjoys travelling, running and exercising, spending time with family and especially spoiling her nieces and nephews.

Image of Portia Pliam—Clinical Social Worker


Clinical Social Worker

Portia Pliam is a sophomore at Wesleyan University, studying Neuroscience and Behavior. She is an active athlete and plays on the Women’s Varsity squash team at Wesleyan. Portia’s MPN journey began 13 years ago when she was diagnosed with ET. She has been involved in the MPN community through guest speaking for MPN Advocacy Education and International and Patient Power. Portia has also interned for MPN Advocacy Education and International during her gap year before college. She is a patient advocate to new families and young adults diagnosed with MPNs. Portia calls the Bay Area, CA, home, but she loves to travel and explore new cities. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her friends and family, getting coffee, and reading by the pool.

Image of Taja Shabazz


Patient Advocate

Taja Shabazz is a resilient, loving, caring, very determined woman that has a passion to change the world. At the age of 23, at the height of her career, Taja Shabazz was diagnosed with polycythemia vera (PV). During her battle with PV, Taja obtained her degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice.

Taja is a warrior and inspiration to many. Taja has taken what could be deemed as a hidden darkness and has chosen to spread light throughout the world by founding Invisible to the Eye Inc.

As one of the self-identified youngest individuals to be diagnosed with PV in the country and as the founder of Invisible to the Eye Inc., Taja’s goal is to find a cure for MPNs, and make that which is “Invisible to the Eye” seen by many.