Those of you who have followed this space with any regularity know there are a couple of topics that I revisit from time to time. One of those is cancer — specifically pediatric neuroblastoma.
This insidious malignancy strikes one out of every 100,000 kids, mostly boys and mostly younger than the age of 5, and has symptoms as varied as dark circles around the eyes, abdominal pain, bone pain and eyes that seem to protrude from the sockets.
In the case of Calli Kalman, who was diagnosed with the disease 12 years ago, her symptoms started out as a pain in the hip, which later turned into a bulge. Because the disease attacks nerves, it defies description as to how painful it is.
Following the diagnosis, which forever profoundly affected the San Luis Obispo family as one can only imagine, Calli’s mother and father, Terry and Frank, began their odyssey into the world of childhood cancer with a focus on neuroblastoma.
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What they found was disheartening, if not devastating: For all intents and purposes, funding for research into pediatric cancer is nil.
“The phrase ‘No Child Left Behind’ doesn’t apply in the cancer world,” said Frank Kalman. “Our government and giant cancer charities only allocate between 1 to 3 percent of their funds to children’s cancer research.”
The underlying but unstated reason? Why bother? There’s no market.
Tell that to a family whose child is suffering.
Sure, the disease can be treated by conventional methods — chemotherapy, surgery, radiation — but the ravages of the treatment only compounds the misery of little ones already hanging in by the slimmest of threads. And there’s no guarantee that those avenues will have an effect.
What’s needed is a cure. It’s that simple, yet that complex.
Needless to say, Frank and Terry were not going to let Calli die; she gamely underwent dozens of treatments, each as wasting and painful as the next.
Yet, now a senior at Cal Poly who’ll be graduating with a degree in event planning/parks and recreation this spring and is engaged, her cancer is in remission thanks to a drug that was “stumbled on” at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Prior to that, her chances for reaching adulthood after she’d been diagnosed were only 45 percent; her first relapse dropped those odds even lower.
So, what does a parent do when he or she is told a child has cancer? After the tears and anger? For Kalman, it was nothing short of finding a cure. Toward that end, he founded the nonprofit Kids’ Cancer Research Foundation to underwrite research to find a definitive cure.
In setting up the foundation, Kalman made the acquaintance of Chris Kennedy Lawford, son of the late actor Peter Lawford and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy. With Lawford onboard, Kalman sought and enlisted five of the most outstanding pediatric physicians in the nation to sit on the foundation’s board of advisers, and another seven professionals also advise and sit on the foundation’s board of directors. The curriculum vitae of these individuals can be found at endkidscancer.org.
What Kalman and pediatric cancer researchers have so desperately sought — on a shoestring — is a “magic bullet” that will deliver a knockout blow, a once-and-for-all cure to a disease that’s thought of as a “smart cancer.” That means neuroblastoma, once it’s attacked, can shift focus and manifest elsewhere.
“With neuroblastoma, the immune system can’t sense a haywire cell,” Kalman explained. And that’s where the use of T-cell therapy is making startling inroads into fighting the disease.
“In T-cell therapy,” Kalman added, “they take out some of the cells of the child and attach them to mouse antibodies and reinject the child. The mouse antibodies direct the T-cells to the cancer cell, where it’s chomped up.”
Recent tests with T-cells are showing encouraging results: Of 11 children to receive the infusion, three kids are free of neuroblastoma, and have remained free for the last three years. And, perhaps just as heartening, none of the kids had a relapse during that time. So, there’s hope.
Now, here’s the pitch (and you just knew one was coming): The Kids’ Cancer Research Foundation needs your help. Toward that end, the likes of Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson have contributed to the foundation, as has the Hearst Foundation. This money goes directly to the costs of research.
So, as the year comes to an end, and you may be looking for a good cause to make a charitable tax donation to, please keep the Kids’ Cancer Research Foundation in mind as it searches for a cure for our littlest cancer victims.
Donations can be made by visiting the website endkidscancer.org or by calling Frank Kalman at 550-7682.
On behalf of those whose suffering will be stopped through research and cure, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.