In the past 30 years there has been little progress against pediatric bone cancer despite the countless number of children who suffer and die from it. One teen has made it his mission to change that trend.
“The main reason so little progress has been made is because pediatric bone cancer is an orphan cancer with fewer than 1,000 children being diagnosed a year in the U.S.,” says 19-year-old James Ragan. “There’s not a large market to sell the drugs on, so therefore there’s no incentive for the drug companies to invest in research for it.”
James was 13 when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. A rising international tennis player, James had to abandon his athletic dreams to undergo limb salvage surgery and intensive chemotherapy at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. He didn’t let cancer sideline him for long. James soon picked up golf and eventually earned a spot on Rice University’s golf team.
While other teens are focusing on their plans for the summer, James is balancing treatment for relapsed osteosarcoma with maintaining a 3.75 grade point average at Rice University. His goal is to raise $1.5 million for childhood cancer research.
“I do what I do and give what I give because MD Anderson has given a lot to me,” says James. “The surgeons, oncologists, child life staff and nurses have always been there for me.”
Taking on cancer one toga at a time
His first attempt at fundraising started with a toga-themed birthday party in his hometown of Corpus Christi. In lieu of gifts, James asked friends and family to donate to his childhood cancer cause, raising more than $40,000 for MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital and Driscoll Children’s Hospital. Since that first event in May 2007, Ragan and his family have added a golf tournament in Corpus Christi and a fall event in New Orleans, raising more than $800,000 for MD Anderson, thus far, and attracting an equivalent amount in matching gifts.
In 2010, James and his sister, Mecklin, co-founded Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation. Along with MD Anderson, the foundation helped establish the Childhood Sarcoma Initiative to fund pediatric bone cancer research and disseminate research results to inspire further projects and collaborations with other institutions. It also continues to support childhood cancer organizations such as Sunshine Kids.
“The people who have donated to the Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation and MD Anderson are so important because they’ve realized that what’s important isn’t dictated by market forces,” says James, who presented the foundation’s most recent gift of $450,000 to MD Anderson in January. “They give us hope.”
Big Easy teams up against cancer
The foundation’s October event in New Orleans included celebrities such as New Orleans Saints punter, Thomas Morstead, and G.W. Bailey and Andy Sacks from TNT’s “The Closer” and “Major Crimes” shows. The third annual event raised more than $150,000, and plans are already under way for its Corpus Christi fundraiser in May.
In the past year, on top of his own fundraising efforts, James joined the Sunshine Kids board of directors, advocated on behalf of other patients before the board of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and was honored with a Special Ambassador Award by MD Anderson’s president Ronald DePinho, M.D.
“I’ve met a lot of patients and staff here at MD Anderson who’ve made an impact in my life, and many of those patients have passed away, unfortunately,” says James. “I feel like I’m still here to help give back and make it better for other patients.”