Dive into the Pink supports a fellow underwater photographer and cancer researcher

By Mary Hardin

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Indiana University cancer researcher Theresa Guise, M.D., and Allison Vitsky, DVM, have never met. Dr. Guise lives in Indiana; Dr. Vitsky resides in California. Dr. Guise is a physician; Dr. Vitsky is a veterinary pathologist.  

Yet their lives intertwine. Dr. Vitsky is a breast cancer survivor and Dr. Guise, an endocrinologist and a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, treats breast cancer patients. In addition to their interest in cancer, the two women share a love for scuba diving and underwater photography.

Both women are accomplished underwater photographers. Dr. Vitsky’s work has been published in books and magazines on diving, marine life and nature photography, and she has been recognized in numerous international underwater photography competitions, as has Dr. Guise.

Dr. Guise was honored by the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition in 2015, as was Vitsky. That same year, one of Dr. Guise’s underwater photographs was selected for the cover of Nature Medicine magazine to accompany publication of a research paper her team authored on muscle weakness associated with breast cancer. Another of her photos of a crocodile adorned the cover of UK Diver magazine.

Still, their paths had not crossed.

Dr. Allison Vitsky -- Photo: Andrew Sallmon
Dr. Allison Vitsky Photo: Andrew Sallmon

Then, in 2015, Dr. Vitsky and her husband, Andrew Sallmon, created Dive into the Pink, a nonprofit organization founded to create fundraising events supporting breast cancer research that are “cleverly disguised as diving” opportunities. The initial diving event was more successful than anticipated and as the visibility of the organization increased, Dr. Vitsky asked researchers and other breast cancer organizations to submit grant proposals.

From those, two were selected: Dr. Guise’s lab at the IU Simon Cancer Center and the Young Survival Coalition.

Dr. Vitsky, who was 33 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, wants to support research while helping to improve the patient experience, especially for younger patients.

Dr. Guise’s lab received $20,000 to study how breast cancer interacts with the microenvironment of the bone, particularly the fat cells. Fat cells in bone marrow increase with aging, Dr. Guise explained. Her research seeks to reveal the role those fat cells play in bone metastases.

Dr. Guise sees a connection between her research and her passion for underwater photography. “I study the microenvironment in which cancer cells thrive, and how the cancer-host interaction affects surrounding environments,” she said. “The ocean is also filled with unique microenvironments that impact surrounding environments."

Dr. Guise hopes that sharing her fascination with the underwater world and marine life through photography will promote understanding and environmental conservation. As a scientist and educator, Dr. Guise hopes that her efforts will reveal solutions to questions about cancer treatment and stimulate medical students and young researchers to continue the mission to save lives.

Allison Vitsky and Dive into the Pink are happy to help.