Sneakers and college basketball: How my son’s adrenal cancer diagnosis led us to raise funds for research
My son, Dan Hund, was everything a parent could ever want: a good student, a state high school football champion, a college graduate with a double major in accounting and finance as well as a master’s, a business owner and more. He was always a hard worker but always made time for everyone.
A rare adrenal cancer diagnosis
In 2018, Dan began experiencing severe back pain. He was 33 years old. Dan went in for back surgery close to our home in Westlake, Texas, to replace a disc, and his doctor knew immediately something was wrong – the disc had degenerated too quickly.
I will never forget what his local oncologist said: “This is adrenal cancer. This is the first case I have ever seen in my entire life, and it is the only one I will ever see. You need to go somewhere they see and treat this regularly.” He suggested MD Anderson.
For the next 18 months, Dan went through a series of ups and downs. We started with radiation to relieve the pain in his spine, but the tumors had spread across his hip and shoulders. This meant the cancer was stage IV. We learned adrenal cancer starts in the adrenal gland (there are two, one on top of each kidney) and then spreads as tumors metastasize to the bones.
After radiation, we embarked on aggressive chemotherapy treatment, including Etoposide, Doxorubicin and Cisplatin. It was a four-day regimen – two days inpatient, including 48 hours on an IV, and two days as an outpatient. Dan went through six rounds and experienced extreme fatigue, hair loss and more, but he never complained. In May 2019, Dr. Jeff Lee removed his adrenal gland, and we thought we were in good shape.
Unfortunately, the cancer returned. It attacked his bones, particularly his spine and back. We tried more radiation, immunotherapy and some targeted therapy drugs – pembrolizumab and cabozantinib– and then, another round of chemotherapy. We made our last trip down to MD Anderson on April 1, 2020. Dan passed away on April 21 at only 35 years old.
Sneakers and college basketball: Dan’s legacy
Throughout his treatment, Dan maintained a fighting spirit, keeping his passions for sports, family, friends, business and life at the forefront of his mind rather than the tough hand he had been dealt. He loved life all the way until the end.
Dan was committed to helping others. Every time the doctors at MD Anderson took a biopsy of a tumor, Dan told them to take an additional sample for research. That sounds easy, but his tumors were always attached to bones, and each of the many biopsies involved inserting a needle into the bone to reach the tumor. He always wanted to help others and find a cure, even if it was not in time to help him.
Among his many passions, Dan was a shoe guy. He especially loved collecting sneakers. He bought and sold hundreds of pairs over the years. He continually impressed the staff at MD Anderson with his new and colorful footwear. When we sold his house, we found dozens of pairs neatly arranged in his closet, many never worn and in the original boxes.
Raising funds to advance cancer treatment for future patients
Dr. Campbell and I started brainstorming what we could do to honor Dan’s passion for sneakers and raise funds for rare cancer research. We wanted to do something that would endure – not just a one-year thing. That is how the Dan Hund Memorial to Stomp Out Cancer came to life.
We asked our friends and colleagues to fill out a bracket for college basketball’s March Madness tournament. We suggested a $25 donation. The winner would receive a pair of Dan’s basketball shoes. The first year, we raised $50,000, which our family matched. By year two, I realized I had more shoes than I could giveaway in a lifetime, so we gave away two pairs to first and second place. As we enter year three, we have raised over $250,000 for adrenal and rare cancer research at MD Anderson.
My wife and I also established a memorial fund at MD Anderson in Dan's name. Through the money raised by the tournament and within the fund, Dr. Campbell and his team have been able to do critical research on samples collected from the first successful clinical trial testing a targeted therapy for adrenal cancer, open the largest immunotherapy study to date in adrenal cancer and perform groundbreaking research into bone metastases.
From the beginning, Dr. Campbell has been a big supporter of the tournament and the fundraising we’re doing to support his research. As he told me, “Every donation received has gone directly to support this research mission. The Dan Hund Memorial to Stomp Out Cancer has been a remarkable event and we look forward to continuing our fight to find a better way to treat every patient with rare cancers. I’m excited to see this year’s size 12 basketball shoes!”
Dan would love what we are doing today – absolutely love it – and be proud of it. He always said, “I may not be the one who beats it, but someone is going to, and I want to be a part of that.” And through all of this, he will be.