My firstborn child was plagued, starting at an early age, by severe cluster headaches, which were often preceded by dark circles underneath her eyes. The pain was debilitating and as a young child, frequently resulted in her curled up in a fetal position and weeping.
In daughter Barclay’s case, a multitude of tests would follow, ranging from allergies to a CAT scan and MRI looking for potential brain tumors. Those days, which turned into weeks, awaiting a report and those test results felt like some of the longest days in our lives. Though eventually what turned out to be a diagnosis of cluster migraines, which are still part of her life today, I also cannot quite express the relief I felt when told that her scans were clean and clear, and there were no tumors on or near her brain causing the severe pain.
Many families are not as lucky. My own first cousin, Shaye Sauers Kilby, would almost begin her life with swelling on her brain, and later a series of difficult to remove tumors and growths on her brain, near the top of her spine, and multiple difficult surgeries and years of radiation and chemotherapy would follow. Shaye’s life and health were permanently impacted, but she has been cancer free for several decades and is now happily married and volunteering at the Front Desk of the Egleston Campus of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Aflac, the insurance giant based in Columbus, Georgia, would later make a $5-million naming gift for the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorder Centers at Egleston and Scottish Rite as well as Hugh Spalding Hospitals in Atlanta. These millions and more that followed have evolved these pediatric cancer treatment centers into the 7th largest in the nation, as well as the most successful at treating blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia and multiple forms of leukemia.
Cure rates, once in the low teens to twenty percent range, for the vast majority of pediatric cancers, are closing on the 80 percentiles, though medical personnel and researchers prefer terms like ‘cancer-free’ and ‘no tissue at the margins’ versus ‘cured,’ as cancers often return or recur, morphing into attacks on other vital organs and sometimes decades after successful treatment.
Though I led or participated in small fundraisers for CHOA as well as for Shaye through the years, I am proudest of my role as a seed planter, suggesting and arranging for a tour of the Egleston ward of the Aflac Cancer Center, for legendary radio newsman and anchor, Scott Slade of WSB Radio. Slade would become the advocate and founder of the WSB Radio Care-a-thon, now CHOA’s by far largest annual fundraising event, benefitting all three campuses of CHOA and the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorder Centers.
Each year, the total raised has grown, as has participation by WSB advertisers and program sponsors. During the 36-hour radio telethon, a significant percentage of time has hours with double-donation and even triple-donation matches, from grateful patient families, solid corporate citizens, as well as public figures, elected officials, and celebrities auctioning dinners, event tickets and making personal appeals. As the 2022 Care-a-thon came to a close on July 29th, with a Power Hour match of $250,000, made possible by America’s Thrift Stores, the donations total set a record of $1,820,440.00. Total funds raised to date by the station’s efforts are closing on $30-million.
And as Scott Slade so well noticed all those years ago, this care is provided in an atmosphere of family, warmth, safety, and play. It is not unusual to see a few small bald-headed warriors racing down a hallway, with their IV poles in tow, or sick patients and their siblings together watching a movie or playing Nintendo, during a lengthy chemo infusion. And one of the most sacred spots on each of these wards is a bell hanging from the wall…and when that bell peels, someone has either completed their cycle of treatments, has their cancer in remission, or is leaving the Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, heading home much healthier than when they arrived along with their family, in that moment of crisis.
The Care-a-thon and CHOA have paved a lengthening road filled with miles of smiles, and tears of joy…as well as gratitude to so many of you, and those survival chances and odds improve each year. And for those children and families yet to receive that tough diagnosis or phone call…let’s keep it going. For all of us.
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