Guest Relations created a program in September 2009 to honor the courageous fight of children with cancer.  CURE’s Kids Conquer Cancer One Day at a Time initially featured the personal story of 30 children.  Promoted in social media and other online communications, the program has grown over 5 years to feature nearly 400 children.   The campaign has raised to-date  $1,017,291 towards research aimed at solving children’s cancers.

The Atlanta Journal-Constution recently featured the program.

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BY MARK DAVIS – THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

For 30 days, they shared their stories: the athlete who didn’t let amputation keep him off the lacrosse field, the kid who inspired people even as he lay dying, the sisters who share a bond more profound than blood. Their stories were different — the same, too. Each is young, and has cancer. Some have licked the disease, and are in remission; others remain in a literal fight for their lives. A few have lost that fight.

In September CURE Childhood Cancer, a Dunwoody nonprofit, featured nearly 100 youthful cancer patients in a month-long fund-raiser, Kids Conquer Cancer One Day at a Time. People who visited the organization’s web site could read each child’s store and make an online contribution.
The goal: raising $200,000 to fund childhood cancer research. What it had raised by month’s end: $214,000.

The money will help bridge the funding gap between fighting adult cancer and childhood cancer, said Kristen Connor, CURE’s executive director.
“We don’t (spend) anything to prevent childhood cancer,” she said. “I think that’s wrong.”  Less than 5 percent of the federal government’s annual total funding for cancer research is dedicated to various forms of childhood cancer, according to the National Institute of Health.  At the same time, said Connor, cancer is the No. 2 killer of American youth, defined as newborns to 21-year-olds. Only accidents claim more young lives.
Childhood cancer often isn’t the same as that afflicting adults. Grown-ups, for example, may contract cancer of the lung, colon, breast. Children are more apt to develop cancer in soft tissues, or in growing bones.  About 14,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 1.6 million men and women will be diagnosed with cancer this year.

For Connor, the numbers are more than an abstract. Twelve years ago, physicians diagnosed her son, Brandon, with neuroblastoma, a cancerous growth on his spine. The boy was a month old, and she was terrified.  The cancer has been in remission for nearly a decade, and Brandon recently celebrated a birthday. But the experience so profoundly changed his mom that Connor gave up her career at an Atlanta law firm to lead CURE.  “Brandon was lucky,” she said. “But a lot of others haven’t been.”

Some struggled against a disease that proved too much for their young bodies. Silas Edenfield was 3 when physicians diagnosed him with type IV hepatoblastoma, liver cancer. The boy, who lived near Savannah, underwent six surgeries over a 16-month period. He faced chemotherapy, blood tests and hundreds of nights away from home. In May, 10 days short of his fifth birthday, Silas died.  His is one of the stories on CURE’s site. By then end of September, people who’d read his story online had contributed more than more than $2,000 in donations in his name.

Other stories show that cancer is not insurmountable. Sean Dever was 11 when he developed osteosarcoma, bone cancer, above the knee. Surgeons removed the cancerous segment, then reattached the ankle and foot to his knee, rotating the joint so it serves as a new knee. Colleges are recruiting the Marietta resident, now a high school senior, for their lacrosse teams.

Consider the stories of Olivia and Elena Tate. Gwinnett sisters, each was diagnosed with cancer. The diagnoses came five years apart, and on the same day.

April 2, 2004: The Tate family was on vacation in Florida when Olivia’s parents noticed their 2-year-old daughter was tilting her head to one side. She stumbled when she walked. When the child started holding her head and vomiting, the Tates rushed her to a hospital. A CAT scan revealed a brain tumor. A helicopter took her from Florida toChildren’s Healthcare of Atlanta where Olivia underwent surgery to remove the tumor. Eight follow-up visits showed no recurring tumors, and the Tates relaxed — until a ninth checkup in 2008 revealed another tumor.It was removed, too.

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April 2, 2009: Elena, 10, had been complaining of severe back and leg pain. Leukemia, her doctors said. Since then, Elena has run the gamut in care: chemotherapy — her hair fell out — spinal taps, blood transfusions. She underwent a bone marrow transplant last year and is in recovery.
Their stories, shared online, had raised $4,200.

In an interview last week, both girls said they feel great — happy to be at home, and in school. Olivia, now 11, is in the fourth grade; 14-year-old Elena is a ninth grader.  School, Olivia said, is “good. I think I need to study a little more.”  Elena, who wants to be a marine biologist, has her hair back.  It’s a red tangle. She also has regained something else.“I’m feeling confident again,” she said.  “Everyone has been there for me.”

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