It’s been a year since James Ragan died of cancer at age 20. The Corpus Christi native and outspoken advocate for pediatric cancer patients had raised funds for research since 2007, after his diagnosis of osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer. Overwhelming community support led James and his sister, Mecklin, to co-found Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation (TOKC) in 2010.
“It started as a way to give back to children and families going through what James and our family were enduring,” Mecklin says. “We never could’ve guessed it would get this big, yet we feel we have an opportunity to grow and make a difference.”
At 14, James set his sights on raising $1.5 million to fund pediatric cancer research. His goal came to fruition in December 2013, two months before he died.
“It was something he’d put so much of his time into, and time was something he really valued. He knew he didn’t have a lot of it,” says Mecklin.
To date, TOKC has raised more than $2 million, through widespread grassroots support as well as four annual events in Corpus Christi and New Orleans. MD Anderson matches all of TOKC’s contributions.
In January, Mecklin and TOKC board members Omar Abou-Sayed and Cynthia Coffman presented $367,000 to MD Anderson’s pediatric Genome Research and Sequencing Project. While whole genome sequencing has been promising in adult cancers, it’s rarely done for pediatric cancers due to the cost.
“MD Anderson has a remarkable infrastructure for genomics research through its APOLLO program, so we’ll get to make use of the resources MD Anderson already has in place,” says Mecklin. James’ vision was a world without children’s cancer, and Mecklin and other TOKC board members are determined more than ever to make his dream a reality.
“A friend told me, ‘The hole in your heart will never get smaller, but you can make it feel smaller by growing your own heart bigger every day,’” says Mecklin. “The only way to try to make the pain of losing James go away is to push on until we have enough cures and treatments that there’s no need for foundations like ours. While that’s a lofty goal, it’s definitely a worthwhile endeavor.”
View the trailer of "Until 20," a documentary on the late James Ragan.