Interview by jan osborn. Photos by Jenny Watts.
Each year, more than 300 children and adolescents at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas are newly diagnosed with cancer, with more than 650 children receiving therapy at any given time. 1 in 5 children diagnosed with cancer in Texas is treated at Children’s in Dallas. Through the work at Children’s, the survival rate for all childhood cancers is now close to 80%, significantly better than the 50% chance a child was given 30 years ago. The increase in survival is a huge improvement for some cancers, but some other childhood cancers still have a less than 50% cure rate.
For the 34th year Children’s Cancer Fund (CFF) is presenting the Annual Children’s Cancer Fund Gala—the organization’s annual fundraiser for pediatric cancer research. Dallas Doing Good had the opportunity join the photo shoot at NorthPark Center for the upcoming gala and visit with Jennifer Arthur, Executive Director of CFF.
Over the years, the annual Children’s Cancer Fund Gala has raised millions for pediatric cancer. Troy Aikman has said he will keep supporting this cause until there is a cure. How important are his and Roger Staubach’s commitment to this organization?
Troy and Roger’s commitment is steadfast and a superb example of our community coming together for the sole purpose of supporting kids with cancer. They turn their celebrity status over to the patients, and encourage others to join the fight. There aren’t many people I know who have been a part of the same charity organization year after year. Roger has supported CCF for more than 35 years. That’s a commitment from the heart.
Jennifer, your brother was diagnosed with leukemia as a teenager. He survived it twice. How did your own experiences growing up lead you to the Children’s Cancer Fund?
When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it rocks the whole family. My mother was devastated, my brother was crushed, my sisters were shocked, and as a middle schooler, I was beyond confused. I certainly didn’t know what Leukemia was, or even how to spell the word. Today, I use that experience to empower and educate others going through the same painful process. My heart goes out to these families. I know the fight they are in, and it’s frightening. My life experiences have enabled me to serve in this role at Children’s Cancer Fund in a way I could never have imagined.
The Children’s Cancer Fund fuels some of the innovative research that will one day cure childhood cancer. How do donations to your organization flow to pediatric patients in North Texas?
Donations are deployed in strategic ways. First to cancer research to support cutting edge science. We have to start there, to ensure we are investing in a cure. Secondly, we invest in compassion care. Meaning, until we find a cure, we want to serve patient families the best way we know how, and that’s through Child Life Services. We believe these services, like pet therapy and art therapy, are critical to patient care. They may have nothing to do with medicine, but they have everything to do with healing.
Every day, you are fighting against a vicious disease while saving lives. What are the best and worst parts of your job as The Children’s Cancer Fund Executive Director?
Hands down, the best part of my job is when one of our CCF models runs off the stage after our fashion show and jumps into my arms. They will give me one of the tightest hugs and say, “Ms. Jennifer, that was the best night of my life,” Giving these kids hope is our mission and it’s the most important thing we can do for the families. The world’s worst day is losing a child. It’s a devastating reality we face too often. The goodbyes are filled with grief, and a guiding force to keep fighting.
Children’s Cancer Fund works to invest in strategic pediatric cancer research and provide compassionate care for patients and their families. How do you hope your work will create a brighter future for children with cancer?
These kids miss out on birthday parties, school field trips, and everyday life. Those childhood moments are replaced with doctor’s visits, scans, chemo, and constant worry. Our work is in the details. Knowing that Izzy wants to be a ballerina when she grows us, we will find a ballerina to escort her down the runway. When Ben was hospitalized for weeks at a time, we made sure he had legos to build and keep his little hands busy and his heart full. Every step of the way, we want to serve a patient family in the way that supports them the most. Maybe it’s teaching a little girl how to spell Leukemia, or sharing a story of survival. Our goal is to bring a brighter future, no matter how long the future lasts. The hope is, it will last a lifetime.
The Annual Children’s Cancer Fund Gala will take place on April 22nd. Proceeds from the spring Gala, slated to raise more than $1 million, go to Children’s Cancer Fund to support pediatric cancer research and treatment programs at Children’s Health and UT Southwestern. Since 1982, Children’s Cancer Fund has donated over $11 million in grants to the childhood cancer cause. The Children’s Cancer Fund spring event is the organization’s largest annual fundraiser and an opportunity to shine a light on pediatric cancer.
For more information about Children’s Cancer Fund, you can visit their website at childrenscancerfund.com.