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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