Meet the Parents Fighting to End Pediatric Cancer

When these parents heard the unimaginable words “your child has cancer,” they grieved—then got to work to help find a cure.

By Kimberly Hiss
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine March 2014

barbara canalesSpencer Heyfron/Redux for Reader’s Digest

The Ultimate Win

First-grader Jackie Black was playing hide-and-seek at recess in 2006 when she ran into an oak tree. Fearing the girl had a concussion, the school nurse suggested Jackie get checked out. That night, Jackie’s mother, Barbara Canales, a divorced mother of five and an attorney from Corpus Christi, Texas, found herself sitting across from a doctor who explained that a large tumor was pressing against her daughter’s brain stem, spread like a star over the entire left cerebellum.

Barbara, 47, moved her daughter to Texas Children’s Cancer Center in Houston and sent the scans to eight neuro-oncologists across the country. An initial surgery revealed that the tumor was a devastating grade 3 anaplastic astrocytoma, and Jackie needed another crucial operation to remove all of it. Afterward, she had to relearn how to crawl and then walk. “I asked our oncologist if he knew anyone with Jackie’s diagnosis who had lived, and he said he knew one,” Barbara says. “I told him Jackie would be two.”

The next year and a half was consumed with radiation treatments at the highest allowable dose and a blitz of chemotherapy. “To see your child taken into a chamber where she has to wear a mask and be strapped to a table is an unbelievable thing,” says Barbara. “And Jackie did it 33 times. That can’t possibly be the best we can do.”

Barbara requested a meeting with the director of the Texas Children’s Cancer Center to see how she could help. “They said, ‘We need money. Period,’” Barbara says. With Jackie finally feeling better, Barbara committed herself to fund-raising.

In 2007, Barbara established the Ready or Not Foundation, named for the game that saved her daughter’s life. (Now 14 years old, Jackie is cancer free.) Through car washes, barbecue cook-offs, casino nights, and fashion shows, Ready or Not has so far raised $2.2 million for the Glioma Research Program at Texas Children’s Cancer Center. Projects include developing nanotechnologies that deliver 
immune-based therapies directly to tumor cells and establishing a 
genomic database that researchers can use to identify new treatments.

To make a donation, visit

Next: Nancy Goodman and Kids v Cancer »

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  • Your Comments

    • Phaerisee

      I think the word “inspiring” tends to get overused, but in this case it applies.

    • James

      Nothing worse than what you and your child are going through
      i sympathize as I was diagnosed with a rare blood condition and found that there is very little being done for a cure only expensive treatment and believe that only the mass cancer issue are being addressed and even those are lobbyists controlled .. Example Leukemia foundation a wonderful group with true financial suppot compared to American Cancer Society which will par for your car fare to the hospital I have know I idea what they are doing with their money for research to cover the gamut..People don’t want to hear about the C word they just give money and the do diligence is in a cloud..

    • Deb

      Please be aware that Penn State University holds a THON each year to benefit children’s cancer research and expenses. They have raised over $100M since it began over 20 years ago ($12M last year alone). This is the largest student run philanthropy in the world–the students spent weekends in the fall “canning” throughout the eastern United States and I even saw a homeless man put money in a can in center city Philadelphia! Then they hold a dance marathon in February (coming up in a few days) where they dance for 46 hours. It’s a really emotional event because many student organizations will “adopt” a childhood cancer patient and their family and the students provide support to that family throughout the year with visits, treats, cards, etc. and then the families are invited to attend the thon event to “support” their dancers. It’s the highlight of the year for some of these kids.

    • Nancy

      Wonderful story!! I lost my son Alexander on April 1’2011 to neuroblastoma. He was just 21 months old. Before he was diagnosed, I “knew” kids got cancer, but I never really gave it much thought. It is an evil horrible disease. I am glad there are parents like these, along with others that are raising funds to help the kids. Not is just sad, that it is the PARENTS doing all the work, and the government giving just 4% of the cancer funding to the kids.