Solving Kids’ Cancer (SKC) champion Catherine London has worked tirelessly with her husband to build awareness of pediatric cancers and support for cancer research. A former prosecutor at the Manhattan D.A.’s office, Ms. London committed herself to the cause after her daughter Penelope, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at 16 months, lost her battle with cancer. Ms. London spoke with Scooter about SKC and her experiences as a mom.
Your husband is the co-founder of Solving Kids’ Cancer and you are on the leadership council. What sets SKC apart from other organizations like it?
Well, we’ve got only one shot and finite resources to make an impact, so SKC works very hard to focus on what we feel is the most important goal: improving survival rates for children with the most difficult types of cancer. We have put together a team of informed parents and top pediatric cancer researchers who all share the belief that a system that serves kids with cancer needs to do better. Nonprofits play a big part in the equation. SKC takes a unique approach: as a team we find, fund and manage the research that we are involved in. Rather than presenting a hospital with a large cardboard check and hoping for the best, we create a more business-like structure that makes several milestone payments based on performance, achieving accomplishments and goals. Many places can cut a check – the added value is in advocating for clinical research that is more effective, less toxic and is conducted in the best interest of the patient. And unlike other charities, 100 cents of every dollar donated to SKC go to fund our programs.
What are some of the latest trials or development projects that SKC has been working on?
It is a very exciting time right now in cancer research. The potential for cures has never been greater. We just need to translate all of the amazing recent advances from the laboratory to clinical trails. Children are typically the last in line for the most cutting-edge research so SKC works very hard to shepherd these advances into clinical trials for kids as fast as possible.
At this moment, we are partnering with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) on a specific initiative called ACT FAST that involves an exciting new area of cancer research which has the best potential for cures that we have seen. It’s called Adoptive Cell Therapy and involves scientists genetically re-engineering patients’ own white blood cells outside of the body and then administering them back to create an immune system army of tumor killers.
Our ACT FAST Initiative is putting together a dream team of researchers to open the first multi-center clinical trials for children with cancer that utilizes this technology. Early studies on adults with cancer are extremely promising. SKC’s and NCI’s ACT FAST clinical trials will open in 2013 and we are very excited for this.
We had a great time at your annual benefit in May. What goes into planning such a big event?
It’s a big process that feels like everything is up in the air until the day of the event, and then somehow it all comes through. It really takes a community of people to pull it all together, and we are fortunate to have some very dedicated individuals committed to helping.
What does Oliver think about all of your hard work?
Oliver: I know how important it is that you work for helping other sick kids, Mom. I like it. As long as you don’t work at nights and on weekends.
Catherine: Something which I avoid doing, unless everyone is asleep…
How do you balance being a mother with your work schedule?
Trying to be a good mother to my children (I also have an 18-year old daughter who lives in California) is my first priority— so I am always present to listen to them, to observe them and to interact with them, no matter what. Because Oliver is in school and loves after-school activities, I am able to work while he’s busy, which makes balancing work and family life pretty easy. And weekends are always family time, no matter what.
Any advice for other working parents?
I’ve always been a routine and schedule person, something which I’ve inherited from my mother, and in a world that can throw you unexpected curve balls, predictability and organization can have very calming effects. But, as my wonderful husband—and life—have taught me, it’s equally important to take time and smell the roses, to check out the latest Lego Minifigures and to sometimes have dessert for breakfast. Childhood goes by so fast. Every precious moment counts. Oh! I also write everything down in my faithful Filofax—I’m stuck in the Stone Ages that way—so I don’t forget school performances, field trips and appointments.
What do you love most about New York City for kids?
Manhattan is like a wonderful treasure island with unexpected wonders and hidden treats. Even though I was born and raised here, every day I discover something new about the city and try to share that with my kids. One day we were in search for the best ice cream shop in Manhattan and ended up in Chinatown checking out street vendors’ exotic fruits and vegetables. Even a leisurely walk down the street on the way to ice hockey or soccer practice, while you’re looking at the different architecture of buildings (and trying to spot some hidden gargoyles) can be a load of fun! I’ve lived in different places around the world, but honestly can’t imagine a better place than New York City to raise kids.
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