Kids With Courage Reunion Celebrates Childhood Cancer Patients

Cindy Crawford and friend; Cindy Crawford was the honorary chair at the Kids With Courage IV reunion for childhood cancer patients of UW Health's Pediatric Hematology and Oncology DivisionMADISON - The day after Independence Day in Madison turned out to be a festive and somewhat emotional occasion for families who have faced the fear of childhood cancer.

Kids with Courage IV, held July 5 at Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, attracted more than 200 pediatric cancer survivors and their families. More than 900 attendees from Wisconsin and other Midwestern states including Illinois, Iowa, and Ohio spent the day getting reacquainted with doctors and nurses and bonding with others who understand the anguish and uncertainty of cancer.

The star was supermodel Cindy Crawford, who spearheaded the first Kids with Courage event in 1993. Since then, childhood cancer survivors have reunited every five years to share their stories of survival and offer support to families with children still undergoing treatment.

Crawford can easily relate to the fear of childhood cancer and its impact on families. Her brother Jeff was treated at UW Hospital (now American Family Children's Hospital) for leukemia in the 1970s. He died just before his fourth birthday.

After attaining celebrity status in the 1980s, Crawford became an avid supporter of childhood cancer research with hopes it would someday lead to a cure.

Since Crawford's brother was diagnosed, survival rates for childhood cancer have taken a quantum leap forward, more than doubling to 80 percent. But Paul Sondel, MD, professor at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and researcher with the UW Carbone Cancer Center, says the battle against the disease is not over.

"It's a celebration not quite 100 percent complete," he said. "We're celebrating the progress, but we have to remember at the same time we are not there. We can and must do better, and we can't lose that focus."

The day's schedule included presentations by five emcees, all childhood cancer survivors: Jon Gabrielson of Appleton, WI; Peter Greenwood of Spring Green, WI; Jay Haraldson and Dustin Wisch of Sun Prairie, WI and Jeanette Smith of Dousman, WI.

For the first time, families who lost a child to cancer attended Kids with Courage. Madison resident Lindsay Secard, whose older brother Brent died from osteosarcoma in 1998, talked about his courageous battle with the disease and its impact on her job as a nurse.

There was plenty to do: photo sessions with Cindy Crawford and cancer survivors and the first Kids with Courage Challenge, which centered on hockey, soccer, track and field, football, golf and other sports that tested the skills of children. Kids not interested in athletics could have fun with arts and crafts projects.

A grand finale concluded the day, with attendees waving light sticks in the darkened ballroom while viewing film footage of fireworks and listening to the musical talents of the UW Marching Band.

For many, it was a day that celebrated the gift of life and offered the hope that someday a cure for childhood cancer will be discovered.

Date Published: 08/12/2008

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