Those who have dealt with the loss of a loved one to cancer know how overwhelming that kind of a tragedy can be. The scope of grief can be difficult for others to fully comprehend. But to endure the death of a child seems almost unimaginable to those of us who have not experienced such a loss.
Sadly, for the parents of approximately 3,000 children in the U.S. each year, that unthinkable worst-case scenario becomes a devastating reality. But, as at least one Louisville man has discovered, there is no reason to accept that this must always be the case. On Sept. 29, Tom Dunbar will take part in the Louisville CureSearch Walk, to raise funds and awareness in memory of his son, Evan, in hopes of sparing other parents the pain of losing a child to cancer.
In 2001, Tom lost his six-year-old son to an aggressive form of childhood cancer called neuroblastoma. Despite roughly two years traveling the country to pursue every possible treatment option – a list that included stem cell rescue, radioactive treatments and monoclonal and antibody treatments – Evan’s cancer ultimately proved too aggressive to overcome. While in Louisville, that treatment took place at Kosair Children’s Hospital, a partner hospital with an organization called the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). In fact, several of the hospitals he visited shared that affiliation, and along the way Tom and his family discovered that the cutting-edge treatments being offered to Evan, and which had been responsible for the successful recovery of hundreds of other sick children, were made possible only because those hospitals were working with this organization.
“The Children’s Oncology Group in particular is important because it ties together and does the statistical analysis for every trial that exists in North America, and much of Europe, for kids with cancer,” Dunbar explained. “They are thousands of doctors from hundreds of hospitals, who take the information that they glean from each trial at each hospital, and share that information.”
A remarkable number – roughly 90 percent – of children being treated for cancer are reported to be participating in trials coordinated by the Children’s Oncology Group, as compared to rates closer to 5 percent of adults with cancer who are in trials. A disparity, Dunbar points out, that demonstrates just how crucial a part the COG’s research and tracking plays in the quest to cure the childhood disease.
“Thankfully, there’s only maybe 13,000 children (who) get cancer in the United States and all of North America in a year.” Dunbar shared. “(But) because the patient count is (so low), …the number of kids in a particular stage of a particular type of cancer, even at the biggest hospitals, is relatively small. In order to make sure that all the treatments continue to improve, (the COG) coordinates their trials.” These trails follow a process in which new treatments are rolled out in three phases, beginning with a select few test hospitals and ultimately becoming available to all 180 affiliated hospitals in the U.S. And despite the COG’s important role, federal funding for those efforts is sparse, because children make up such a small percentage of overall cancer patients.
This is where a group called CureSearch comes in. The philanthropic organization responsible for funding the Children’s Oncology Group relies almost entirely on the generosity of people who recognize the vital nature of the research and tracking that they provide for sick children. “Everything about children is different,” Dunbar elucidated. “Their cancers are different, their metabolisms are different, the drugs that work on them are different. And here’s the biggest, most important part of finding funding for childhood cancer (research) – the drugs that are available to children, for the most part, are only adult cancer drugs. …There is really no other avenue for funding childhood cancer (research) besides the philanthropic nature of North Americans.”
And, while roughly 3,000 children still die each year from cancer, the efforts of CureSearch have resulted in some pretty remarkable victories. In part because of the coordination of trials provided across the continent by the COG, the cure rate for childhood cancer, nearly zero in 1960, has progressed to almost 78 percent today, far higher than any adult cancer. With funds raised through nationwide events such as their annual cancer walks, CureSearch continues to work toward the goal of ensuring that fewer families each year, and perhaps someday no families at all, endure the devastating loss of a child to cancer.
Next Saturday, Sept. 29, Mr. Dunbar and other local families affected by cancer will participate in the 2012 Louisville CureSearch Walk, an event held to raise funds and awareness for lifesaving children’s cancer research. The walk will include prizes, music and food, as well as a special memorial portion meant to honor and remember those children who have passed away. You can take part in this incredible event by registering online at www.curesearchwalk.org, as an individual or a team, and you can even join Tom’s team, Team Evan in Heaven.
For Tom, the event is much more than just a fundraiser. “The first thing (we hope to accomplish) is to remember Evan,” he emphasized. “And then, of course, we’d like to remember all kids, and have a great time. And, ultimately, (we’d like to) raise money to help cure kids, and so the treatments can become better, less invasive, and more successful.”
The 2012 Louisville CureSearch Walk will begin Sept. 29 at 10 a.m., at Waterfront Park’s Big Four Lawn, 1001 River Road. Registration and check in will begin at 8:30 a.m. For adults, a minimum $10 donation is required, while children 16 and under may walk free. Those who raise $100 or more will receive a free T-shirt. For more information visit www.cureseachwalk.org.