ABTA Rocks It

Originally published on NYU Bytes, I figured this might be worth putting on my blog because it’s something I wrote that’s not, like, about comic books and sludge metal and stuff. If you visit the actual website you can view the shit-ass slideshows my professor made us make but I’m totally leaving that out here because man wow.

Brain Tumor Association in the Money with Record $700,000 Fundraiser

by Damon Beres

Over 5,000 people braved the cool lakefront temperatures and cutting winds last Saturday to support the American Brain Tumor Association’s third annual Path to Progress, a 5K run and walk that raised nearly $700,000, a $300,000 increase from last year’s event. 2008 marks the 35th anniversary of ABTA, commemorated by a Path to Progress turnout that trounced last year’s by 1,000 people.

“It’s great to have people come together, even though our weather is awful,” said Stephanie Melone, from the Gray Matters Team, so-named for the region in the brain that forms a key part of the central nervous system. “To have everybody raise money is amazing… We found out how we could turn something negative into something positive.”

The walk, held at Chicago’s Montrose Harbor, generated funds to advance brain tumor treatments, develop insights into the cause of brain tumors, and work towards a cure. Leading the fundraising effort this year with just over $47,000 was Team Survivor: Chicago, comprised of more than 200 Northwestern Memorial Hospital Brain Tumor Support Group members and their friends and family. Team Hope claimed second with $25,000, almost $18,000 of which was raised by top individual fundraiser Juliana Schafer.

“This was a bigger event than last year and the year before,” said Naomi Berkowitz, Executive Director of ABTA, adding that the figures from the Path to Progress will only continue to grow over the coming months through further donations and matching gifts. “Preliminary revenue figures are approaching three-quarters of $1 million.”

Already off to a strong start, ABTA hopes to reach new heights this year by raising $2.5 million. Though not the only brain tumor foundation in America, ABTA is unique in that it is an independent organization that awards research grants to scientists throughout the United States and Canada. A group of over 20 scientific advisers, ranging from a doctor of neurosurgery at Harvard Medical School to a molecular oncologist at Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, makes recommendations to the board of directors, which then decides where to allocate funds for its Fellowship Awards and Translational Research Grants. Over $2 million is awarded by ABTA each year for brain tumor research across North America.

With 120 kinds of brain tumors, however, even that much money can seem like a drop in the bucket.

“We need more help to raise more money,” said Dr. Jeffrey Raizer, a neurologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Raizer is currently working on developing new treatments, including Avastin, a medication that blocks vessel formation using a derivative of scorpion toxin, which binds selectively to tumor cells.

Though ABTA and new therapies like Avastin are making headway on the brain tumor treatment front, it is still simply not enough. Raizer stresses that for most, brain tumors can be considered death sentences, and though he personally worked with a couple hundred brain tumor patients last year, most people know of brain tumors “only what they glean off the internet.”

“I didn’t know a single thing,” said Melone. She became involved with ABTA only after teammate Mark Averson received a brain tumor diagnosis.

With the Path to Progress’s growing numbers, however, it’s clear that awareness is spreading rapidly. Melone assembled her team only a month before the walk, but still raised over $3,000. “We were pretty surprised – pleasantly surprised. We’re hoping to make it an annual event.”

ABTA gives each team and its individual members web pages from which donations can be solicited. It’s easy to get others involved, which explains how Melone’s team grew to 40 people in such a small amount of time. While research and treatments like Avastin are clear goals for ABTA, spreading awareness and increasing participation are vital in keeping the organization going. As involvement grew so much from last year, things are clearly heading in the right direction for the Path to Progress.

Participants in this year’s walk reflected this optimism. Despite overcast skies for much of the morning, a fitting reflection of the gray matter on everyone’s minds, walkers and runners joined for food and festivities on Montrose Field surrounded by upbeat rock music from WTMX-FM. By the time the 5K started, the sun even began to shine. For fundraisers, the Path to Progress was cause for celebration, not sorrow.

“Personally, I was extremely touched by the showing displayed on Saturday,” said Carolyn Licata, a walker and fundraiser. “People weren’t crying as they walked, they were having fun. I met a group who traveled from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio just to show their support… If they aren’t sad about the things they see on a daily basis, then there certainly must be hope.”

Pat Hurley, the head of Team Hurley, which placed eighth in the top fundraising teams with $12,435, was similarly upbeat. Chatting loudly with friends and family, Hurley appeared to be in tiptop shape and ready to walk. It would be impossible to tell from looking at him that he’s recovering from a year’s worth of treatments for astrocytoma, a type of tumor that manifests in the central nervous system.

“They got it,” said Hurley. “They did surgery, radiation and five days out of the month, chemo, so it’s not bad at all.”

While not every brain tumor patient is as lucky as Hurley, the Path to Progress is lined with hope. Records set this year are expected to be exceeded with the next walk, and donations will continue to roll in throughout the year. With optimistic participants in for the long haul, ABTA surely has much to look forward to.

“I think that it’s something that a lot of people see as fatal and there is no hope,” said Danae McDuffee, a walker. “I think it’s great to support this cause as a sign of hope for those affected so it doesn’t need to be a death sentence.”

Brain tumors my jams, son.

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2 Responses to “ABTA Rocks It”

  1. Viviane Evanoff Says:

    Hi. I was captain of the Team Survivor: Chicago team at the ABTA Walk. I wanted to thank you for such a wonderful, well-written article. Let’s hope that this walk continues to be successful (and maybe next year the weather will be a bit nicer!).

    ~Viviane

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