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

frank kalmanSpencer Heyfron/Redux for Reader’s Digest

A Dad’s Devotion

After a CT scan in 2001 to investigate a lump on the side of Calli Kalman’s torso had led to middle-of-the-night surgery, doctors determined the ten-year-old’s mass was a malignant neuroblastoma. Though they removed it, the tumor came back the next year, requiring another surgery, and the year after, when it had become horribly tangled with the blood vessels between Calli’s spine and kidneys. The risky but successful surgery that followed rendered Calli disease free for four years. But in 2007, the cancer recurred in Calli’s leg, which led to radiation, more chemotherapy, a 20 percent drop in body weight, and the realization that none of this was working.

Calli’s mother, Terry, became the breadwinner, and her father, Frank, 57, devoted himself to finding new therapies. (The Kalmans, from San Luis Obispo, California, also have twin daughters, Taylor and Taryn, who are three years younger than Calli.) Fearful of high-toxicity chemotherapy and radiation, Frank focused on enrolling Calli in clinical trials for biological therapies, which train the body’s immune system to fight off cancer. Finally, in 2010, Calli’s doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York City tried more drugs, 
including one called Revlimid, which has the potential to enhance immune function—and Calli has had no evidence of disease since.

Frank had been wondering how he could help others, and one day his mind was made up for him. “One Friday, three kids in a blog community I’m involved with earned their angel wings [passed away]—and that knocked me to my knees,” Frank recalls. He decided to launch the Kids Cancer Research Foundation (KCRF), which raises money from private donors and works with medical advisers to fund research advances. “We pound the pavement to find the most promising projects, just like I did when searching for treatments for Calli. I go to conferences, monitor clinical trials, and network with doctors.” KCRF’s first grant helped an immunotherapy trial called CAR T-Cell therapy—an improved version of a therapy that Calli had once tried.

The foundation has started to make a difference in the lives of 
desperate families nationwide, and Calli’s future is looking bright as well. In 2012, not only did the 23-year-old graduate from California Polytechnic State University, but Frank had the great joy of walking her down the aisle. “This is the happiest I’ve ever seen her. Thank God,” he says.

To make a donation or download Steps to Hope, a booklet about navigating cancer for children and adults, visit endkidscancer.org.

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  • Your Comments

    • http://www.medjugorje.org/pieta.htm Phaerisee

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

    • http://www.jamnesdaddio.com 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.