CHAMPIONS FOR CURES
Each year the proceeds raised by the organization are designated by our annually elected “Champion” to be used in support of families fighting cancer and research for cures with approval from the Champions for Cures Board. The organization has raised $421,029 in the fight against cancer through our first ten years.
The 2021 Champion
Christmas used to be one of the Burton Family’s favorite times of the year. Whether it was the food, opening presents, playing games or sharing stories of past Christmas’s it didn’t matter, all that mattered was that they were with the ones they loved most, everything else just seemed to fall into place.
The joy of Christmas is still there but it has seemed to have lost its luster that it once had, that is because December 26th , 2018 was the day Blake (four years old at the time) was emergency airlifted to Lurie Children’s Hospital. On Christmas 2018, Blake was acting a bit lethargic which was a bit odd for the youngster. Blake being the youngest of four siblings was typically chomping at the bit to open presents but not this season. Blake passed at opening presents and rather wanted to relax on the couch and watch his favorite cartoon. Blake’s parents thought it might be a virus he is going through and didn’t think that much about it.
The next day, Blake had mentioned he had some back pain and was still acting a bit strange so needless to say his parents made the decision to take him to the Doctors office. This was the day their lives changed forever; Blake was diagnosed with advanced leukemia the day after Christmas. Hearing the dreadful news was devastating.
Blake Burton is now six years old and still fighting for his life. In two years, Blake has endured more suffering than anyone should go through in their lifetime let alone an innocent child. He should be out playing with friends, scraping his knee, climbing trees, catching frogs, eating too much candy but he is not. Sadly, Blake spends most of his time getting poked or pricked.
In July 2020, Blake was allowed to leave the hospital and relocate temporarily to the Ronald McDonald house. In early August 2020, he was allowed to return home and with the help of his beloved Aunt Suzie he was able to raise +$400.00 dollars at a Lemonade Stand they had setup. Guess what Blake did with that money? Yup, you guessed it. He donated it to the cancer floor of Lurie Children’s Hospital. On August 31 st , 2020 we received the best news yet – the test results came back from the bone marrow and lumbar procedure and Blake was cancer FREE!!
As Christmas arrived in December 2020, we were reminded of that night, the night our
world was flipped upside down. Just like that it was back, our worst fear…Blake’s cancer has returned. Blake is now about to go toe to toe with cancer for the fourth time. We pray this is the last fight. Blake has been through countless chemotherapy and radiation treatments, emergency surgeries, spinal taps, a bone marrow transplant, weeks in the ICU on a breathing machine, daily needle pokes and COVID-19 tests but through it all the kid never seems to stop smiling!
In July 2021, Blake had another bone marrow replacement in July which was successful. He is cancer free at the moment but constantly dealing with checks and med adjustments to make his body continues to accept the transplant. He is starting first grade this month. "He wants to play golf, take karate, eat s'mores everyday and play with all his friends!"
Blake has the heart of a warrior and the determination of a CHAMPION. He is kind, selfless, funny, courageous and an inspiration to all of us. Blake was given a choice and he has chosen to fight! He is not ready to give up! We stand behind Blake every step of the way. WE BELIEVE IN BLAKE!
The 2020 Champion
My name is Meggan Mikal and I am pediatric palliative care nurse practitioner. I journey with patients and their families through the toughest of diagnoses, including disease-related pain and symptoms. I sit with them as they receive good and bad news, including conversations leading up to the last breath.
As I reflect on the work I do, the word embrace takes on a much different meaning. One of the favorite stories my husband Andy and I loved to share, was how we met. I am forever grateful to my mother-in-law, Joanne, not just for her resiliency and strength, but for introducing me to the man of my dreams. Throughout my undergrad I worked as a patient care tech on the same hospital floor as Joanne. She was a nurse and someone I looked up to. I begrudgingly agreed to share my email with her after she thought I would be a good fit for her son, who by the way, she always shared looked like Matt Damon. After a few weeks of emailing over winter break, we agreed to meet in person, once we returned back to school. He walked into my college apartment wearing what we soon would refer to as his "white snake jeans", brown trucker shirt, and black shiny shoes. Obviously, it was not his wardrobe that won me over but his calming and reassuring voice.
It was that same voice that asked me to be his girlfriend on February 2, 2005, his fiancé on June 1, 2009, his wife on September 18, 2010, and rejoiced as he shouted, "It’s a boy!" on October 20, 2016. It was his voice I heard as we shared many adventures. Throwing pennies in the Trevy fountain in Italy, drinking wine in California and Guiness in Ireland, eating olives in Greece, ziplining in Costa Rica, hiking Denali trails in Alaska, visiting ground zero in New York, dancing at Señor Frogs in Mexico, touching the Golden Toe (he did) in Croatia, skiing in Colorado, proudly wearing our Chicago Blackhawks gear while visiting Boston, and cheers-ing in unique breweries all across the US.
Andy, my strong, funny, fierce, cool, calm and collected husband, was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer in January of 2017. To say we were in shock is the understatement of the year. How can this be, the medical professional in me kept asking? I kept reviewing the timeline of events. He had back pain from golfing 36 holes 3 days in a row in May but clear x-rays. He pushed through 6 weeks of physical therapy. We escalated to an MRI which showed herniated and bulging discs. We thought we had our answer. He was constipated from the pain meds. The blood in his stool was from his hemorrhoids. In medicine, you could call it the perfect storm of events. It was also just three months after our son Andrew was born, hence the rationale for his fatigue.
I read that 67% of those diagnosed with colorectal cancer saw at least two healthcare providers before being diagnosed. We saw four – one of which was an ER visit due to his debilitating and severe pain. When Andy’s journey began, doctors thought his herniated and bulging discs were the source of his pain. It was not until efforts to treat the discs were unsuccessful, discussions of spinal surgery were being considered and the pain started to increase severely, that he underwent additional testing and re-imaging. This resulted in discovering cancer. Andy immediately began aggressive chemotherapy.
In my professional role, I am passionate about empowering patients and their families to ask for what they need, to think about their goals, and to let them know that hope is always alive. My husband brought that home for me. Despite the severe pain, emergent ostomy placement, infection, and time in the hospital, Andy fought hard to remain the most optimistic, energetic, and passionate person we knew. Prior to his diagnoses, Andy left corporate America to begin his dream job as an assistant brewer at Rock Bottom Brewery and cancer did not stop him!
Andy was not only the eternal optimist, he embodied a character fitting of a hero. In dire circumstances so many, myself included, may ask the question, why me? But right on par with Andy’s essence, he NEVER once posed that question, he actually stated the opposite, that he was thankful it was not one of his brothers instead. He truly encompassed qualities that almost seemed surreal and even in the harshest moments of his dark reality, that is who he stayed. His character was simply strong, wrapped in kindness, it remained impenetrable. The myriad of attributes and an authentic soul are what real superhero’s have in their DNA and cancer never stole that because it couldn’t, Andy wouldn’t let it. And this is who I get to tell our son his dad was...a superhero.
He made advocacy and lifting up awareness to colorectal cancer in young adulthood his passion. This passion towards helping others, helped over 35 of our friends, family and extended community in seeking screening. This early prevention and life saving action, motivated by Andy’s fight, led to 16 out of 32 people having polyps discovered, one person in need of every 3 month monitoring due to the discoveries this early screening provided, and 1 being diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer. Our Andy, our champion gave life to so many.
Andy’s zest for life was contagious to those that knew him. Though he was the sickest in the room most days, he continued to be interested in those around him and empowered them to be the best version of themselves. He inhaled life and exhaled love in everything he did. He taught us what passion looked like for work and everyday life. He instilled kindness in all things even during the hardest days.
Many who knew my beloved husband were privy to the fact that he made a damn good beer. I am re-grounded by his passion for hard work almost daily as I pass by the pop-up craft breweries and see marketing for hopped-out beers. However, I believe his greatest accomplishment was becoming a father. He gave life to one of the coolest kids we have ever met. Though my heart is full of our adventures and traveling together, the daily reminder of Andy is our son, Andrew. He is his finest gift of all.
I am humbled by the strength and grace of the families I see at the hospital. When a child dies, we see loved ones come together, remember their little one, and begin to create a legacy that will live for years to come. My Andy was the definition of strength and grace, and I am grateful to be a part of his legacy.
Andy died September 13, 2017. A mere 8 months after being diagnosed with this horrible disease. A saying Andy used that will forever stay with me was from Bob Marley. It was "Evil never takes a day off. So, how can I?" He dealt with unimaginable adversity as a true warrior, followed his life passions and goals, and accomplished them with grace. I cannot say that I am not lost, confused, angry, and sad. I will say that Andy would want us to harvest good just like he harvested his hops.
Never in a million years did I think my career would help guide me through my darkest days. It did not make it better, but I came back to work with a new understanding of what my patients and their families go through. Yet another gift from my Andy.
The loss of Andy taught so many that the brevity of life is all too real. The amount of time our bodies will breathe air on this earth is indeed limited, unknown, and should never be taken for granted. Andy knew that already, he lived and loved that way. Even with Andy’s death he is till protecting others. Andy is inspiring early prevention for the lives he touched and impacted, this is the type of action that needs to become widespread to shield the loss of the most valuable, ourselves, our children, and the futures to come.
There are so many times in our life we are faced with moments of reflection and situations that cause us to pause. Often, subtle symptoms cloaked with life’s realities bring about under diagnoses, particularly in young adults. Resulting in patients being seen by at least two separate doctors before the revelation and devastation of a cancer diagnosis. Recommendations for screenings at age 45 are now suggested this would not have helped Andy. The ambiguity of symptoms makes the diagnosis difficult especially in young adults because of, well, plain and simple, their youth. It’s often presumed that it would be unlikely in young people and yet people under the age of 50 are on the rise as are the overall numbers for all colorectal cancer diagnoses. The numbers are growing, which would indicate we need to place the possibility of this disease even higher on our radar, so as to screen for it even sooner. As a community with a voice, we together can knock down those barriers and pave roads that allow people a longer journey through life.
Rhonda has chosen Gateway for Cancer Research to receive the 2019 proceeds.
The 2019 Champion
As announced at the Birdies for Cures event on September 15, 2018, Rhonda Kokot is our 2019 Champion. Rhonda’s cancer journey began on December 28, 2001 when, at the age of 29, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive blood cancer. After undergoing several rounds of chemotherapy, Rhonda took part in a clinical trial that tested the efficacy of using umbilical cord stem cells for adult stem cell transplants. Fortunately, her transplant was successful and, 16 years later, Rhonda is cancer-free and living a healthy, normal life.
After her recovery, Rhonda vowed to make cancer research her passion and purpose. In 2008 she started on a challenge to run a half marathon in every state and raise $100,000 for cancer research. (Today she has 2 states remaining and is very close to reaching her fundraising goal.)
Rhonda is also a board member at Gateway for Cancer Research. Gateway’s mission is to help shape a world in which a cancer diagnosis is no longer feared. To do that, Gateway funds clinical cancer research trials for today’s cancer patients – treatments that help patients live longer, feel better or conquer cancer today. Gateway’s singular focus on funding cancer research, coupled with underwriting support from Cancer Treatment Centers of America, enables Gateway to use 99 cents of every dollar they receive for cancer research.
Rhonda is thrilled to receive the honor of being named the 2019 Champion and looks forward to working with the Champions for Cures team to direct fundraising dollars to Gateway for Cancer Research.
Randy’s family chose the University of Chicago Prostate Cancer Research group to receive donations made in his honor. Dr. Russell Szmulewitz and his team at U of C will be using this money to advance state-of-the-art imaging and genetics techniques in an effort to optimize prostate cancer diagnosis and management. We made a $81,516 donation in Randy’s honor.
The 2018 Champion
As announced at the Birdies for Cures event on September 16, 2017, Randy Kingdon was our 2018 Champion. Randy bravely fought prostate cancer for eleven years before passing away on September 15, 2017. Randy’s wish was for the proceeds for 2018 to be directed towards prostate cancer research. His family has chosen the prostate cancer research program at the University of Chicago that worked along with Randy’s doctors in Peoria, IL to provide treatment. Randy was the father of our co-founder, Eric “Pete” Kingdon.
From Randy’s son, Eric:
To put words on paper to summarize why my father was a champion in his fight against cancer is tough to do, and that’s because words cannot do justice for the courage, strength and determination he showed in the 11 years he fought this terrible disease. Eleven years….all the while still farming almost every day, taking care of his family and living life to its fullest. As I reflect on all he went through without so much as one complaint, it’s impossible not to admire his courage. If I’ve learned anything throughout this, we should all live each day as if it were our last and cherish the ones we love to our fullest.
Part of the reason my father was been able to continue his fight as long as he did was the advances in Prostate Cancer research over the last 10 years. For a disease that at one time only had 1 or 2 treatment options there are now over 10 with many more being developed. This is all the result of experimental cancer research that is often funded through charities like this. As we look to 2018 for our purpose and where the money we will raise will go, my father's request was prostate cancer research be that purpose. Our family has specifically chosen Prostate Cancer Research at the University of Chicago to receive 100% of the proceeds for 2018. Hopefully with your continued support, we will someday live in a world where we don’t have to watch our loved ones fight this terrible disease.
Andrew's family selected the Cancer Center in Zion, IL (Gateway for Cancer Research) as a recipient and has established a college fund for Andrew's 4 children with the donations made in 2017.
The 2017 Champion
Andrew Beauchamp was selected for our 2017 Champion for Cures. His story, as told by his wife Jennifer, is below:
Over the past 6 years our lives have been turned upside down. Andrew was first diagnosed with colorectal cancer in February 2011. It was such a shock. No family history of any colon or rectal cancer. He was 26 years old when he was first diagnosed. The prognosis, then, looked really good. They wanted him to go through radiation therapy and chemotherapy, and then have a surgery to remove the tumor in his rectum. He underwent the surgery in June 2011. They also told us that after the chemo, radiation, and surgery (due to the location of the cancer), we would probably not be able to have any more children. At the time, we had a 3 year old girl and a 2 year old girl. We were really wanting to try and have a boy someday as well. A month later, March 2011, a week before he started chemo and radiation, I found out I was pregnant with our 3rd child. So, we were thrilled, but 2011 was very difficult. Andrew was going through chemo, radiation and surgery/recovery, and I was pregnant, working, and taking care of a 2 and 3 year old. At the end of 2011, he had finished chemotherapy and radiation and recovered well from surgery. The year ended with the birth of our son on Andrew's birthday, December 7, 2011.
August of 2014, I was pregnant again after the doctors had said he probably wouldn't be able to produce any other children. We had another healthy baby girl born on May 1, 2015. Life was good. In January-February of 2016 Andrew started to have slight discomfort in his right leg from his groin down to his foot. It kept getting worse. Andrew just thought it was a pinched nerve or some orthopedic issue going on. He was given pain meds and after having several scans done, an orthopedic surgeon finally found a large malignant pelvic mass in his right pelvis that was causing all of the pain, discomfort, and complications. We found out this news in March of 2016. After discussing his situation with doctors locally, we searched around and decided to seek treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. It is located in Zion, IL, only about 3 1/2 hours from our home. We loved the care we received from them since day one. Over the last year we have been back and forth for appointments, chemotherapy infusions, intense radiation, hospitalizations and procedures. He was last admitted to the ICU at the Cancer Center in Zion on November 28, 2016 for several complications he was having. The side effects from the chemotherapy he was currently on were causing more and more complications throughout his body that he physically could not withstand them. Unfortunately, despite the aggressive treatment since March, the cancer progressed. The doctors discussed with us that there is so much multiple organ involvement that by trying yet another type of chemotherapy or treatment his body just wouldn't be able to endure the side effects.
He fought cancer like a boss and had a smile on his face every single day. He was by far the strongest and bravest man I have ever known. He went through so much the last year. More than what most people go through in a lifetime. He wouldn't let anything steal his joy. He loved sports and being outdoors. Andrew would go hunting and fishing regularly. He did as much as he could up until the very end. I believe his last day out was in the duck blind on November 25, 2016. This was just 3 days before being admitted to ICU. He was such an inspiration to so many people.
Andrew was discharged from being under the care of his oncologist and admitted to home hospice the first week of December 2016. He wanted to come home and be with all of his loved ones. He was only home on home hospice for 10 days before he past away peacefully surrounded by his family and closest friends on December 17, 2016.
It is a whole new lifestyle for us, and we are still adjusting. We have a great support system. We still believe that God is good and He will guide us through this next season of life. We miss him like crazy, but it helps us knowing that he is walking with Jesus and watching over us free of pain and suffering. Andrew would want us to be happy and live life to the fullest. Thinking about what he would want helps us get through each day without him. We have to remember that our time here on earth is such a short time compared to eternity in heaven.~
Dan Weber, our 2016 Champion for Cures
Dan selected Mayo Clinic Research and Great River Hospice for the donations made in 2016.
Check out the presentation of our donation to Great River Hospice below:
The 2016 Champion
Dan Weber was selected for our 2016 Champion for Cures.
NOMINATE A CHAMPION
We’re Looking For Our 2022 Champion
Each year, our Board of Directors selects a “Champion” to represent our organization for the upcoming year. That person must personify all of the core values of the Champions For Cures organization, as outlined above. Our “Champion” is also given the opportunity to donate the majority of the yearly net proceeds to an organization of their choice, pending board approval. Finally, that “Champion” will be publicly recognized at our Birdies For Cures event each fall.