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Mark Myers

Nicholas’s Bright Future

Later this month, Nicholas Childers will walk with his fellow seniors as they graduate from St. Andrews School. By all accounts, his future certainly looks bright. Most people who see him in his blue cap and gown will never know that there was a time when his future was in doubt. But even at his young age, Nicholas has fought a battle that most can’t fathom.

In 2015, ten-year-old Nicholas began experiencing persistent nausea and fever. His parents were told it was a virus. But after it wouldn’t go away after two months, they knew it was something more. On April 3, blood work revealed that Nicholas had B-cell high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“Nicholas responded well to treatment in the beginning,” shared his mother, Cheryl. “But things went downhill fast. The nausea was relentless. He had pancreatitis from one chemo and had to have his gallbladder removed. Then he had an anaphylactic reaction to another drug. It was awful.”

Today’s treatment for leukemia lasts approximately three years. Nicholas reached remission in the first month. But a year later, the side effects were still affecting him, and the anti-nausea medications were not helping. So his doctors decided to stop his medications for a week to let his body recoup. His next spinal tap revealed that Nicholas had relapsed.

“At this point, Nicholas needed a bone marrow transplant,” Cheryl said. “We had everyone tested, and no one was a match. Fortunately, a perfect match was found in a woman in England. She went through the donation procedure, and Nicholas had the transplant in April 2017.”

While the transplant was difficult for him, he was declared cancer-free the following month and finished treatment in December. He hasn’t looked back.

Nicholas loves animals and talked about going to veterinary school after college. But he shadowed a friend in a veterinary clinic and decided that line of work wasn’t for him.

“After that experience, he was able to shadow our dentist and has really enjoyed it,” Cheryl said. “So he will be studying biomedical sciences at the school of Health Professions at The University of Alabama at Birmingham and plans on becoming a dentist! He’s very excited about it.”

At CURE, we love seeing kids persevere through their struggles and have the opportunity to live out their dreams. We will be cheering Nicholas on as he graduates and moves on to college!

 

 

 

 

What it Means to be a Quiet Hero

On May 14, we will gather in person for A Tribute to Our Quiet Heroes. This special luncheon honors the mothers of children diagnosed with cancer, who guide their families through an unimaginable journey. The last two years have been virtual events, and many mothers whose children have been diagnosed during that time have no idea what to expect. So we sat down with Ramona King, whose son Ezra, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2018.

CURE: What is it like to be a mother walking through childhood cancer?

When Ezra was first diagnosed as a baby, I was terrified, mad, and alone. I felt like the only mother in the world having to deal with something so horrific. And in my own little world, I was. However, I soon found out that I am the farthest from being alone. There is a community of amazing mothers who are strong fighters for their children battling these diseases. I still struggle. I feel resentful at times for this being our story. I want so differently for my beautiful little boy. I have to fight so hard for his care, research things I never even dreamed of, and hold his body through things that children should never have to go through. It is traumatizing. However, I am a better person and a better mother for it. My perspectives on life and what is most important have shifted in the best way.

CURE: What was your first impression when you got the invitation to A Tribute to Our Quiet Heroes?

My first impression when I heard about it was to not go. That sounds weird but I felt nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. I felt so alone, and I thought by going and being around that many people, I’d feel even more alone. My husband urged me to go. I was timid when I parked and walked in. I felt overwhelmed. As soon as I put my name tag on, I felt like I was somebody. Not just someone who was hurting inside secretly, but like someone who everyone else with a nametag could relate to. I quickly made friends and saw other moms I had seen in the hospital hallways.

CURE: Did you enjoy the event?

I went to the Quiet Heroes event for the first time in 2018, just weeks after my baby began chemotherapy. I felt overwhelmed at first, but I quickly realized that I was in a room full of mothers who knew just exactly all that I had been through and felt during those horrific months following diagnosis. I wasn’t alone in my heartbreak for the first time. There were hugs, smiles, tears and “I’ve been there’s.” It was incredible. It felt nice to have an event just for me.

CURE: What was your biggest take-away?

It was like I could finally relate to someone face to face. For months in my community, I was the person everyone couldn’t look at, the person they pitied. I was the mother living everyone’s worst nightmare. At Quiet Heroes, I was just a friend. I could look into other moms’ faces and understand what they had been through, too. There were moms fresh in the fight and those that had decades of experience being in these shoes. It was so nice not to be the sad person in the room. We were all strong moms who had all walked similar paths.

CURE: Are you excited about Quiet Heroes being in person again?

I cannot wait to attend this year! I get to see friends that I haven’t seen in a while. I always am so proud to see my son’s sweet face on the screen. It’s a mix of fellowship, friendship, hugs, tears, and feeling so proud of our children who have been through so much.

CURE: What would you tell a mom whose child has recently been diagnosed with cancer?

You feel alone. You are the only person you know in your community who is hurting like this. But I want you to know that you aren’t alone. There are moms who have been where you are, who have had their hearts broken, have had to hold their child through the worst. We want to meet you because you make us feel not alone, too. There are so many of us out here making these tough decisions.

CURE: What would you tell a mom who might be hesitant to go to Quiet Heroes?

Just go. Just try it. You will love it! Just stand tall and be brave for a few minutes and get yourself in the door. Once you find a seat, you will realize you are a part of a friendly, fun, and amazing community of warrior moms.

 

You are invited to join us as we honor the mothers of children with cancer at A Tribute to Our Quiet Heroes. This luncheon features inspiring speakers, a special musical performance, and an over-the-top silent auction and raffle. It is also a day to raise money to fund critical research aimed at solving cancers that affect children.

Won’t you join us?

Get Tickets

Advancing Science Together

As you read this, CURE’s Peer Review Committee is evaluating 44 research proposals from scientists at 27 institutions who are seeking funding. Based on their feedback, we will select the life-saving research that we fund in our next award, and you can have a direct impact on the process.

These proposals have the potential to significantly improve treatments for pediatric cancers where current options are not adequate and, if funded, to be in clinical testing or treatment phases within 2-3 years.

The committee is reviewing cutting-edge research and will score proposals the researchers hope will lead to better treatments for cancers that affect children. These proposals include new methods to fight the most common cancers like leukemia and lymphoma. They also seek to advance science that will impact children diagnosed with the hardest to treat brain tumors, sarcomas, and metastatic disease.

These proposals have come in from leading research institutions across the country.

Each submission is being reviewed by two committee members who have specific knowledge and interest in the cancer type of the proposal. In May, we will host a meeting during which every submission will be discussed by the entire committee. Members will have the opportunity to ask questions and vote to accept or change the overall score. These final scores will be ranked and presented to CURE’s Board of Directors on June 21, and final funding decisions will be made.

This is where you come in. Before the funding decisions are made in June, you can increase the amount of funding available for these projects by renewing your gift by May 31. Additionally, because of a $100,000 matching gift from a generous donor, your impact could be doubled. This is a chance for you to make a direct impact on the way we treat childhood cancer.

The Hard Work of CURE Crew

“As a former teacher, I love working with students,” said CURE Vice President, Mandy Garola. “In 2020 we decided to form a teen council to give students an opportunity to get involved in the work that CURE does in South Georgia.”

The purpose of CURE Crew Teen Council is to offer high school juniors and seniors in the Savannah and South Georgia area the opportunity to support CURE through fundraising, volunteering, advocacy, and awareness of pediatric cancer. The 40 students on this year’s CURE Crew worked hard over the past twelve months. Here is a list of their accomplishments:

  • Sold 418 gold mailbox bows/flags
  • Secured 5 new business partners during childhood cancer awareness month
  • Planned and executed 6 gold-out athletic games and events in September
  • Planned and executed 3 dress down days benefiting CURE
  • Volunteered at 6 annual CURE events
  • Delivered Holiday Angel gifts to 12 local families that would have otherwise struggled to provide gifts for their children this year
  • Helped execute our 1st Holiday Family Drive-In Movie dressed as Who’s from Whoville
  • Secured 4 event business sponsorships and over a dozen auction items
  • Sold dozens of raffle tickets
  • Poured many glasses of tea and water at our Catie’s Gathering events in Savannah and Effingham
  • Established CURE Clubs at 2 local high schools
  • Worked with school groups to collect donations and assemble bags for patients
  • In addition they’ve created birthday and end of chemo posters, donated Halloween door decorations, Valentine’s Candy, and made valentines day cards for patients

“After our 2020 Patient Family Drive-Thru Holiday Party was fully executed with the help of CURE Crew students as volunteers, I officially proclaimed that students are better volunteers than adults,” shared Mandy. “I’m not sure if it’s that I was more comfortable telling them what to do or if they were more used to taking orders, but they were amazing and have been ever since.”

Here is a list of the 2021-2022 CURE Crew:

Kalin Bostic
Banks Bradley
Christian Brown
Clara Coppock
Annalin Crawford
Gracie Daters
Thomas Davidson
Colin Dragon
Madeline Drew
Kinsey English

Katherine Ezelle
Mya Felser
Cecilia Frey
John Thomas Gard
Cade Garola
Claire Hayes
Landyn Hildebrandt
Layla Hill
Haley Hiltzheimer
Grace Mahfet

Rylee Mills
Grace Nilson
Chloe Paulick
Zachary PInyan
Anslee Poppell
Jaslyn Price
Cheyenne Ryan
Reese Ritchie
Nicole Sakuma
Colson Slaughter

Harden Smallwood
Matthew Smith
William Smith
Joseph Stoever
Charlton Strong
Bryce Thomas
Gianni Valoze
Andrew Wadley
Jordan Washington
Olivia Wells

“It’s been our pleasure to work with these students,” said Mandy. “I hope they’ve learned some things about childhood cancer, compassion, fundraising, and serving others from this experience.”

CURE Crew is accepting applications for the 2022-23 school year through May 15th.  Rising juniors and seniors may apply by clicking the button below.

A Record-Breaking Night

Catie’s Gathering started after Jenny Wilkins lost her four-year-old daughter, Catie, to medulloblastoma. One day, Jenny’s friend, Tonya, turned to her and said out of the blue, “Let’s have a dinner and give the proceeds to CURE.”

Thanks to the overwhelming support of her Effingham community, the first Catie’s Gathering has grown into events in five cities across south Georgia and has raised more than $2.8 million. The event helps fund patient and family programs as well as CURE’s Precision Medicine Program, which focuses on individualized treatments based on each child’s genetic makeup.

This year’s event was one for the record books! Catie’s Gathering Effingham, presented by Carlson & Co., was back as an in-person event at the Clarence Morgan Gym in Springfield. Thanks to the tremendous way the community supports this event – it was an amazing night. In addition to sponsoring, Carlson & Co. helped with planning and logistics for the event and supplied tables, chairs, and the evening’s décor. Long-time CURE partners Kaufman-Heinz handled all audio-visual needs for the event.

For the first time in Effingham, there was a VIP tent for sponsors and special guests to kick the night off. Delicious appetizers and a beautiful charcuterie board, both provided by Southern Kafe on 17, and music from Lyn Avenue, set the tone for a fun time in the VIP tent. Meanwhile, guests in the main venue were checking out the tables, beautifully decorated by our hostesses, and perusing auction items while enjoying music from Tell Scarlett.

Attendees were then treated to a delicious meal from Simply Southern Catering, followed by an incredible live auction (complete with a puppy, a trip, and more being auctioned off), door prizes, and two exciting raffle drawings. Former board president for CURE Childhood Cancer, Janet Street, shared her family’s journey through childhood cancer with Cam, a young man gone far too young. While Cam’s story has a tragic ending, Janet shared about his joy despite difficulties and how her family has found a way to move forward after their incredible loss.

The event raised more than any other Catie’s Gathering event to date – an astounding $340,000!

“Effingham County was Catie’s home,” said Jenny. “Our neighbors stood by my family from day one, and the generosity of this community continues to amaze me. Every year, Tre and I are blown away at the support they give children with cancer through this event.”

Thank you, Effingham County, for your generous spirit and for coming out to enjoy a great night!

The Long Journey from Idea to Bedside

Dr. Michael Jensen of Seattle Children’s Hospital is one of the leading authorities on CAR T-cell therapy. He has been working on CAR T-cell therapy for many years, and his work is proving to be very beneficial for pediatric cancer patients. This type of therapy provides hope that someday children can receive far less-toxic medicines that lead to a cure.

Dr. Jensen started his career in the late 1990s at City of Hope National Medical Center in Los Angeles, where his research looked at the technology to take immune cells from a cancer patient and genetically modify them to recognize and attack cancer cells. This is something the patient’s natural immune system can’t do. His research was groundbreaking at that time, and his lab had to build everything from scratch.

“This was similar to creating the Apollo rocket and trying to land on the moon,” Dr. Jensen said. “We had to invent and create every step of the process and make sure the quality was sufficient. Once the first cells were infused, it was literally like landing on the moon and hoping that everything went right.”

It took over a decade of small trials to work out each and every kink, and obtaining funding for something so revolutionary was challenging. One source of consistent funding came from Lauren’s Run. From the beginning, Lauren’s parents were looking for groundbreaking research that would help children with cancer. After learning of Dr. Jensen’s research, they decided that it was exactly what they were looking for and made sure proceeds from the race supported his work.

His breakthrough came in 2014, when doctors using the patient’s own immune system through CAR T-cell therapy started seeing dramatic remissions in children with leukemia who were otherwise out of options.

“Without a functioning immune system, cancer would be much more common,” explained Dr. Jensen. “Think of cancer cells as a semi-truck on a freeway down a mountainside with the brakes broken, and the gas pedal stuck on full. On the way down, the cells acquire genetic programs and mutations and become uncontrolled. The human immune system is challenged because this isn’t a virus that came from outside the body. It doesn’t help that the cancer cells create deflector screens to fool the immune system into peaceful coexistence when we would like for the immune system to attack.”

CAR T-cell therapy takes the T-cells out of the body and supercharges them. The supercharged cells are then put back into the body as a surprise attack on the cancer cells, and the deflectors are not always effective in turning off the immune response. Ideally, within a week or two, the patient goes into remission. The cells then continue to move to all parts of the body, hunting and eliminating any remaining cancer cells. Over 90% of leukemia patients whose initial treatment didn’t work go into remission when given CAR T-cell therapy!

Leukemia was the first target, but the goal is to get CAR T-cell therapy to work against other childhood cancers. CAR T-cell therapy represents a major step toward a safer cure for children. It started as an idea in the mind of brilliant researchers years ago and is now a frontline treatment for many children. But it didn’t happen overnight. It was a long process, and Lauren’s Run was with them every step of the way.

Zoe Means Life

Parents of newly diagnosed cancer patients typically have plenty of opportunities to talk to other parents who are also fighting childhood cancer. But the last two years have been anything but typical.

As a pediatric nurse, Courtney Thomas noticed her daughter’s symptoms quickly. After a visit to the doctor, Zoe was diagnosed with leukemia in February 2020, just as the world shut down.

“The pandemic started during her treatment, which added complications,” said Courtney. “But it also prevents us from getting to know other families. The family room has been closed, and most parents stay in their room during treatment. We have felt very isolated at times. It would be nice to connect with other families who understand what we are going through.”

Additionally, events that usually bring the childhood cancer community together have been canceled or held virtually. The Thomas family participated in 2021’s virtual Lauren’s Run and had a great time walking a 2k on the Silver Comet Trail (even after Zoe fell asleep.) This year, they are very much looking forward to the in-person Lauren’s Run & Picnic.

“Zoe’s name is Greek, and it means ‘life,’” explained Courtney. “So our team name is Zoe Means Life, and we are super excited to celebrate the day with CURE’s staff and other cancer families!”

A month before Zoe was diagnosed, her father, T.J., started a new job with Wren Solutions. Even though he was a brand-new employee, the company has backed him and his family in every way possible.

“The people at Wren were great from the start,” Courtney said. “He was always going to work from home. But many times, he had to work odd hours while we juggled treatment with our other two kids. They have been wonderful.”

Wren Solutions has also stepped up to support T.J. and his family by becoming a Gold Sponsor for Lauren’s Run & Picnic.

“Finding a cure for childhood cancer is an important cause for us now,” Courtney said. “It means a lot to us for them to not only support us during treatment but to stay behind us by investing in the cause that is near to our family’s hearts.”

Treatment for leukemia is very long, but Zoe is getting close to the end. She has one more spinal tap and will take her last oral chemo in June. She has done well with treatment and looking forward to ringing the bell that signifies its end. She would also love to see you at Lauren’s Run & Picnic.

Lauren’s Run & Picnic is Atlanta’s favorite day of family fun. The event has raised more than $4.8 million to fight childhood cancer over the years. But it’s not just a run. After the race, there is an over-the-top picnic filled with games, prizes, elaborate face painting, inflatables, music and dancing, arts and crafts, a full lunch, and much more. Learn more and register at laurensrun.org. Zoe will see you there!

Back Together Again

It’s been two years since we could have an in-person Catie’s Gathering event. Catie’s Gathering Savannah, presented by Coastal Electric, brought us back in gear in a big way. It was so good to be together on March 11, when more than 500 people gathered at the Kehoe Ironworks to raise money for childhood cancer research and enjoy a special evening together.

“Driving home last night, I was trying to pick a favorite moment, and I couldn’t,” said Catie’s mother, Jenny Wilkins. “There were so many moments that made me laugh, others that moved me to tears, some that made me cheer, and some that just warmed my heart.”

CURE vice-president Mandy Garola started the Savannah Catie’s Gathering nine years ago. There are so many reasons it continues to grow – not the least of which are the sponsors, committee members, volunteers, staff, hostesses, vendors, donors, and guests.

Mark and Robin Myers shared their beautiful Kylie’s story. Carlson & Co. and Kaufman-Heinz made everything work seamlessly. Holly Webb handled the technology while the Junkyard Angels warmed us up with great music. The evening’s host, Andrew Davis, kept the evening flowing, and auctioneer Kenny Williams did an amazing job.

“I’ve been trying all day to put last night into words, and it’s nearly impossible,” said Mandy. “The growth that we’ve seen at Catie’s Gathering – Savannah is tremendous, and last night was the best event we’ve ever had. Looking around that room and seeing my friends, family, survivors, current families on treatment, and special people from all my worlds colliding just warmed my heart.”

Catie’s Gathering is having a tremendous impact on children with cancer. Money raised funds CURE’s Precision Medicine Program, which seeks to bring genetic therapies to children.

“When Catie was sick, precision medicine wasn’t an option for kids battling cancer,” Jenny said. “I will always wonder if it would have made a difference for her. The good news is that it is becoming an option for more and more kids battling high risk and relapsed cancers. I truly believe this is the future of pediatric cancer treatment, and I pray it’s the way we finally defeat this awful disease. Thank you to all who supported the event to take us another step closer.”

The 2022 Catie’s Gathering Savannah raised $188,825 – the highest total ever. Thank you to all who made this evening possible.

If you would like to see a photo gallery from the evening, please click HERE.

The Man Behind Carlson & Co.

James Carlson has a warmth about him that comes across instantly. He is a very successful businessman who started his career in landscaping, and now he and his wife, Liz, own several businesses, most of which are related to floral design, weddings, and event planning. He also has a big heart and is committed to giving back to his community.

One of the ways he gives back is through CURE’s Catie’s Gathering dinners. Catie’s Gathering dinners are inspiring events benefiting Catie’s Fund of CURE. These special dinners are right up James’ alley because each table hostess brings their own flair to decorate their table. Looking around the room, you’ll find tables with such themes as the Kentucky Derby, the roaring 20s, and Southern gentility. Since the first dinner in Effingham, Catie’s Gathering has grown from one to five separate events in southeast Georgia.

“I met James at the very first dinner,” said Jenny Wilkins, Catie’s mother and founder of the event. “James came to help decorate. That year we had just ten tables and 100 people. We have about 800 people at the events now, and James has been to every one.”

He also supports the events tangibly and has increased his support every year. He provides tables and chairs, stage decorations, café lighting, and set-up and tear-down for the events in both Savannah and Effingham. This year, he approached Jenny and asked if his company, Carlson & Co, could be the presenting sponsor of Effingham’s event.

“We couldn’t put a dollar amount on the value of his support,” Jenny said. “He is such a crazy character that has such a big heart. I don’t think there is anything he wouldn’t do for CURE.”

While he has no direct tie to childhood cancer, he has seen local families struggle while going through treatment, and CURE’s local support of these families is one of the big reasons he chose to partner with CURE.

“I’ve watched Catie’s Gathering evolve from hostesses using paper plates and plastic forks to using fine china and silverware,” James laughed. “I’m proud to be a part because of the impact it allows CURE to have in our community.”

James has also become involved in the leadership of Catie’s Fund. He was instrumental in forming a board of directors for the fund to increase its reach by sharing its work in the community. That influence has directly increased the number of Catie’s Gathering sponsors.

“Networking is the biggest thing. I think getting out in the community, speaking to people, and getting to know them is important,” said James. “You really need to focus on building long-term relationships with the people around you.”

We appreciate James’ dedication to children with cancer and how he has helped Catie’s Fund by using his business acumen and community focus.

Paying it Forward

In late 2001, the Roberts family lived in England and planned a big weekend to celebrate their son Chad’s third birthday. They hoped to visit both London and Paris. But before they could get away, Chad developed a fever that wouldn’t break. So rather than enjoying a family vacation, they spent the day in the hospital where doctors informed them Chad had leukemia.

“I remember looking over when they drew his blood, and it looked pink because of all the white blood cells,” Chad’s father, Mike, recalled. “The next morning, we were told he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.”

Further testing revealed that Chad was actually suffering from a different kind of leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), which is very rare in children. The first task was to get his white blood cell count down so that he could travel home to the United States for treatment. This was only weeks after the September 11 bombing, so travel itself was no easy task. The family had to stay in England for another 45 days, but his counts finally allowed them to fly home.

When they arrived in Atlanta, preparations began for a critical bone marrow transplant. Every member of the family was tested, but surprisingly, none were a match. Fortunately, a donor was found who was a 100% match, and Chad had his transplant.

“Chad was the first bone marrow transplant recipient at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to get marrow from a non-related donor,” shared his mother, Bridget. “There was concern about his body accepting the marrow, but he would have died without it.”

Chad Today

Chad went home just before Christmas. A few days later, he was declared cancer-free and has been ever since. He is now 23 years old and enjoying life, working as a plumber in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Although cancer is no longer a concern, he does have some health setbacks that his family suspects might be long-term side effects from his treatment.

The Roberts family met CURE shortly after arriving at the hospital. Although their cancer story ended nearly 20 years ago, their involvement with CURE did not. They have been consistent donors since 2002 and joined our monthly donor program nearly ten years ago.

“When we first got the diagnosis, Chad was given less than a 40% chance to survive,” Mike said. “After his treatment ended, we were determined to pay it forward for other families fighting cancer. We knew we couldn’t write one big check, so monthly giving seemed like a great option. Because of CURE’s impact on us and their investment in research, we knew we wanted to partner with CURE.”

We call our monthly donor Dream Makers because every child deserves the chance to live out their dreams. Dream Makers provide a consistent and reliable source of funding. Over time, a simple monthly investment can lead to a big impact on children with cancer. If you would like to learn more about becoming a Dream Maker, visit curechildhoodcancer.org/dreammaker, or contact David Stokes at [email protected].