The St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity dedicated to raising money for childhood cancer research, has awarded a research grant in honor of Hannah Meeson of Grand Cayman.
Hannah was diagnosed with anaplastic medulloblastoma, a form of brain cancer, in 2012 at age 4. The Cayman community put their support behind Hannah over the last two years, taking part in mass head-shaving charity events to raise funds for child cancer research.
The “Heroes for Hannah St. Baldrick’s Research Grant” was awarded to Dr. Erwin Van Meir at Emory University, according to a press release from the charity.
“Dr. Van Meir and his team are investigating a new tumor suppressor (BAL1) in medulloblastoma. He hopes that the research will help devise new therapeutic approaches to block the growth of medulloblastoma and help kids like Hannah who have had to fight this horrible disease,” the release states.
Gaylene Meeson, Hannah’s mother, said in the release, “This grant named in Hannah’s honor is a testament to the humbling support of the Cayman community, their commitment to fund life-changing research and to join us in the fight against childhood cancer.
“The selfless efforts made by those around us are leading to incredible breakthroughs in the understanding and treatment of this devastating disease.”
After many methods of treatment and medications, Hannah’s first clean scan was in April 2014, when she was pronounced as having “no evidence of disease.”
“We scan every three to four months and we will scan indefinitely,” Ms. Meeson told the Cayman Compass. “She’s happy. She’s as healthy as she could be. She loves life, we home-school her and we have a lot of fun. She doesn’t remember life before cancer, which is the only blessing of being diagnosed so young. She is our inspiration.”
Ms. Meeson said that the family is still determined to raise awareness of the lack of funding allocated to childhood cancer research, because a risk of relapse is always present.
“In the U.S. they allocate 96 percent of funding to adult cancer research. That leaves only 4 percent being allocated to childhood cancer research,” she said. “The pharmaceutical industry has only developed three cancer fighting drugs for children in the last 40 years.”
In 2013, Heroes for Hannah held its first head-shaving event, where 50 people from the community had their hair shorn and more than US$50,000 was donated to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. Last September, nearly 1,000 people gathered in support of Hannah and more than 100 people had their heads shaved in solidarity with all kids affected by cancer. The event raised nearly US$300,000.
The next head-shaving fundraiser is scheduled for next month. Ms. Meeson encourages the community to sign up to shave, donate, or just come out to cheer on those getting shaved.
“It’s not just those with fancy cars and fancy money. It’s everybody. Kids selling lemonade and bringing their money or kids coming up to me and donating $1.50, baking cupcakes and donating money that way,” she said. “This year we set our goal at $250,000, and we’re hoping to exceed that.”
All money from the event will go toward St. Baldrick’s childhood cancer research grants. “The event is put on without a single expense,” Ms. Meeson said. “It’s run by volunteers, and we’re very proud of that fact. The DJ donates his time, the six barbers donate their time, the emcee donates his time. There are nearly 100 prizes and they’ve all been donated.
“Every dollar raised goes to St. Baldrick’s – the money does not go to Hannah. We chose to raise money for all cancers despite the fact that Hannah has brain cancer. … We wanted to involve all of the children in Cayman fighting cancer.”
She added, “I will shave my head until all kids fighting cancer have a better chance of a future.”
This year’s Heroes for Hannah head-shaving fundraiser will be held from 5-9 p.m. on Sept. 11 at The Wicket Bar in Cricket Square. There is no entry fee. Visit www.stbaldricks.org/events/heroesforhannah or email [email protected] for more information.