The Society of Memorial Sloan KetteringIntro: Meet Gillian Hearst
Now imagine this: Your child needs treatment and has access to the best in the nation, but you can't afford to pay the toll to get you there. You have to deliberate between paying the cost of medicine or groceries for the week. It's a gut punch when you're already down. This, sadly, is the reality for many families.
While advances in cancer research now allow for 84% of children with cancer to survive five years or more—an extraordinary leap in numbers vs. the Seventies, when the diagnosis was often a death sentence—the financial inequities have only increased. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified this gap further.
That's why the work The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering, a volunteer-led organization within the MSK hospital, does is so vital—and why we're incredibly proud to partner with its current Chair of the Associates Committee, Gillian Hearst, for our #VBGIVESBACK program. From now till the end of June, proceeds from each and every veronicabeard.com order will benefit MSK, one of the leading institutions for cancer care in the nation, and its pediatric division, MSK Kids.
"This year has brought new challenges to all of us, and philanthropy is more important than ever during times of need," says Hearst, a mother of three whose own father died from the disease. "Cancer didn't stop for COVID."
In our one-on-one conversation with Hearst, she tells us about the impact MSK is making and how a new campaign, Fully Charged, is doing double duty in both giving back to frontline workers and instilling the philanthropic spark in her own kids.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is...
The world’s oldest and largest private cancer center. The hospital has devoted more than 135 years to exceptional patient care, innovative research, and outstanding educational programs.
How did you first become involved?
I first got involved with The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering in 2013, just after my father, who had a very rare form of cancer, had been a patient at MSK. I had always been aware of the amazing work that MSK did, but when my father became ill and had to seek treatment at MSK, I really appreciated how much the organization does for each patient and family who enters the building. I've been involved with The Society for eight years now and, just last June, was named Chair of the Associates Committee. My biggest goal as Chair is to help further The Society’s mission: raising significant funds for patient care, education, and research.
The Society? Associates Committee? Could you explain what those are?
The Society of MSK, founded in 1946, is a volunteer-led organization within MSK dedicated to promoting the well-being of patients, supporting cancer research, and providing education on the early prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer. The Associates Committee, meanwhile, was founded in 1984 to introduce a younger generation to the volunteer and philanthropic activities of The Society and to continue the organization’s mission of patient care and fundraising initiatives, which we do specifically for the pediatric department, MSK Kids.
Why is this cause such an important one for you?
Though MSK is a place you hope that you, a friend, family member or loved one won’t ever need, I’m so very glad that it exists. Sadly, cancer is something that touches everyone. The doctors at MSK are constantly working towards a cure and they really do their best to make treatment the most pleasant experience that they can. My father was treated for cancer at MSK, and the innovations and research done by the team there gave him time that we didn’t think we’d have. It’s something we will be forever grateful for.
Tell us more about MSK Kids...
As the largest pediatric cancer program in the country, MSK Kids offers unparalleled expertise and cutting-edge treatments often not available elsewhere—for children, teenagers and young adults with cancer and related diseases. It’s where the latest science meets the compassionate care that has always been a hallmark of MSK. Parents and other loved ones are an integral part of care, working with experts to ensure the most individualized approach for each child.
What kind of support does the Associate Committee provide?
First, we focus on the early stages of research—research that can't get off the ground. Because we're a very nimble arm of the hospital's development department, we can raise money quickly and allocate it quickly. We're basically like angel investors.
We're also heavily involved in patient care and tackling the issue of financial inequality. We want to make sure that people who need cancer care get it. There are families who are deciding between medicine or food—that's something we don't ever want to see. Sometimes people can't make their appointments because they can't pay the tolls. Imagine that being the barrier to getting your child treatment. So we alleviate the financial burdens—housing, food, transportation—for these families so they can concentrate of their child getting better.
And then there are the Easter, prom, Halloween, Christmas events and donations. We try to make the hospital as welcoming and nice, not only for the patients but for their families. We want to brighten their day a little bit.
“Though MSK is a place you hope that you, a friend, family member or loved one won’t ever need, I’m so very glad that it exists.”
So many. We created clown care, which brings clowns in to visit the children, and fund the housing endowment, which provides housing for entire families who need to move to New York to treat a child. We also established The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Prize, which is awarded annually to a doctor who's made a significant impact in pediatric research. It's a global prize, not limited to the hospital, to encourage sharing information and resources. It's not about your research vs. my research—we're all in this fight for a cure together.
Roughly 4% of the total National Cancer Institute budget is allocated to childhood cancer research—meaning pediatric cancer programs rely heavily on philanthropy for financial support. But there's a significant threat to that research stemming from COVID’s impact on philanthropy, as Andrew Kung, MD, PhD, MSK’s Chair of the Department of Pediatrics, outlined in an op-ed published last fall in U.S. News & World Report. He points out that today approximately 84 percent of children with cancer are cured, compared to around 58 percent in the 1970s—this improvement is a direct result of a continual investment in research. What's more, many important breakthroughs in pediatric cancer care—including the very first chemotherapy and living immune cell treatments—paved the way for advances in general cancer care, thus benefiting patients of all ages. But with COVID impacting funding sources, the programs that support important work and research face a substantial reduction in financial support—and may result in ripple effects long after the pandemic.
We've had to go virtual, so to speak, since all the typical fundraising endeavors and events are not options. Cancer didn't stop for COVID.
This year, we knew we wanted to give thanks to the frontline workers at MSK Kids—to the doctors and nurses as well as janitors, the administrative assistants, food service… They're on their feet doing double, triple shifts at all hours of the day and night. We wanted to recognize their dedication and enduring commitment to caring for children with cancer.
We asked them what they needed most and discovered they urgently need portable power sources to keep their phones charged during the pandemic—and stay connected to their loved ones. Through Fully Charged, for every $100 donated or raised, a power bank cell phone charger will be provided to an MSK Kids frontline worker. Additional funds raised will support critical research and patient care programs at MSK Kids.
The campaign also draws on Society families’ time-honored tradition of instilling a culture of philanthropy from one generation to the next.
Parents can register their children to raise money. It opens up the conversation about giving back. That's the key to passing on philanthropy from generation to generation—talking with your kids, answering questions, showing them that they can accomplish something and are working towards a greater good. It's a great and easy way for you and your child to work together to show your appreciation for frontline workers and their tireless commitment to providing care for MSK’s youngest patients.
You can donate or register to raise money for Fully Charged here. The initiative gives our supporters the chance to show their thanks to the MSK Kids frontline workers while also accelerating the progress of the research and patient care programs at MSK Kids. It only takes a few minutes! Five dollars, twenty dollars can make a difference. One person can make a change, which starts a movement, which makes an impact and changes lives.
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