Pediatrics department raises $7K for cancer research

Cancer survivor Isaac Felix with his parents, Raphael and Diana.

Cancer survivor Isaac with his parents, Rafael and Diana, at the Children’s Hospital University of Illinois annual St. Baldrick’s fundraiser (Photo: UI Health)

Eleven people shaved their heads to raise awareness — and money — for cancer research at an event hosted by the UI Health pediatrics department, known as the Children’s Hospital University of Illinois, on Feb. 22.

Among the participants were family members of those touched by cancer, like Rafael Felix, whose 4-year-old son, Isaac, is a cancer survivor. Members of the community and hospital staff, like Karen Fischer and Dave Dreyfus, also attended.

Fischer, a surgical nurse who has shaved her head each year for 10 years, was the top fundraiser this year. She raised around $1,800.

“I do it for the kids,” she said. “They are way braver than I am.

“It’s funny. When you have a bald head, people look at you differently — they don’t know if you are sick or why your head is bald. People notice,” Fischer said.

And that is part of the goal, said Dr. Mary Lou Schmidt, professor of pediatrics and head of pediatric hematology and oncology.

“We’ve been hosting this event, which supports the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, since 2007.  The money raised is so important for advancing cancer research and the awareness the event generates makes a big difference as well,” Schmidt said.

The hospital, and the Children’s Oncology Group — a collaboration between UIC, Rush and Stroger — has received more than $2 million in grant funding from the foundation since 2006.

“The funds we raise come back to us ‘with interest,'” Schmidt said. “Every patient, regardless of their participation in a clinical trial, benefits from the information research provides about the best care and best practices for treating and even curing childhood cancer.”

Childhood cancer affects about 1 in every 285 children in the U.S. In 80 percent of cases, children are diagnosed after cancer has spread.

For Tonya Thomas, who attended the event in honor of her son Johnathan, the event was about the need for “more exposure, more research, more funding and more fundraising.”

“There is not enough exposure for these cancers like there is for breast, prostate or colon cancer,” Thomas said, “and our kids are fighting their best against these cancers. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and I actually didn’t even know until our family was faced with this diagnosis, but everyone knows that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Not to say one is less important than the other, but these little warriors are our future. There needs to be more done so these cancers can stop taking the lives of our little ones, our future.”

Johnathan was 13 when he passed away from metastatic alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma in November. He had been diagnosed just 15 months earlier.

“For every heartbreak we carry with us, there is a story of hope. Our fundraiser today is about hope,” Schmidt said.

The single-day event raised nearly $7,000.

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