Pediatric cancer is rare, yet it kills more children every year than any other disease. Thankfully, through improved treatments and increased access to clinical trials, about 4 of every 5 children diagnosed with cancer will survive five years or more, according to the American Cancer Society.
Helping in that fight to save lives and bring the world closer to a cure for children everywhere is Four Diamonds, a children’s cancer fund that assists children treated at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital in Hershey, Pa. Since its founding in 1972, it has helped more than 4,800 childhood cancer patients and their families through a combination of superior care, comprehensive support and innovative research.
“Part of our three-pronged approach to what we do is making sure the children who are fighting cancer at our hospital have access to superior care,” said Four Diamonds Executive Director Suzanne Graney. “That means making sure there is no financial barrier to care.”
Four Diamonds pays costs not covered by insurance, including copays and deductibles, significant pharmacy costs or experimental therapy.
“It allows our care team to make real-time decisions about what is best for the patient and what the patient needs without having to clear it with insurance first. It removes the fear from a family that if they move forward with what the child needs in treatment at that moment, they might face an astronomical bill on the back end of that decision,” Graney said. “It allows us to make the child’s health the first consideration.”
Four Diamonds staff members believe in a holistic approach to childhood cancer treatment that includes caring for the well-being of each child and their family.
“We’re looking at not just their physical health, which is expertly provided, but also how you treat the entire person and family to help them adjust to this pretty significant change,” Graney said.
Covered services include child life, music and art therapy, as well as a staff psychologist, social services coordinator, clinical nutritionist and pastoral care.
“All are providing services that are proven to increase the likelihood of a positive outcome for our patients, and all are paid for by Four Diamonds,” Graney said.
Lifesaving, innovative research
Since its founding 50 years ago, Four Diamonds has built a team of researchers widely known for providing patients with the latest breakthroughs in research ─ all in an effort to achieve its mission of conquering childhood cancer.
“If we don’t look for new ways to treat childhood cancer, we don’t truly have the ability to conquer it for everybody,” said Graney. “Our researchers are looking at why childhood cancer happens to begin with, how can we treat it differently and how can we prevent the significant side effects that go along with the therapies that are available so our patients have the opportunity to survive and thrive after their fight.”
Working toward that goal are more than 90 scientists and research professionals at Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, which has been recognized as one of the top 50 hospitals in the nation for childhood cancer care by U.S. News & World Report.
“It is with the support of Four Diamonds that we are able to hold on to the researchers we have and provide them with the state-of-the-art equipment and facilities they need to do the best research possible,” said Dr. Lisa McGregor, interim division chief of pediatric hematology and oncology at the Children’s Hospital. “That research helps us understand basic mechanisms of how cancers develop in children and ultimately offer clinical trials that will lead to new therapies and treatments that we open to our patients here so they don’t have to travel. They can be treated right here at home with state-of-the-art therapies.”
Four Diamonds researchers also work with more than 300 research partners around the globe, giving patients access to new drugs and novel therapeutic approaches for cancers which are difficult to treat, said McGregor.
“We do a lot of collaborations,” she said. “We can be part of trials that open across the U.S. and the world. When some of our lab findings can be used in treatments, we work with these groups to open the treatments to other patients.”
Between July 2020 and June 2021, Four Diamonds raised $14.8 million, thanks to tens of thousands of volunteers who contributed 5 million volunteer hours through events like the annual dance marathon at Penn State, known as THON, through Four Diamonds Mini-THONs and at community and corporate events.
THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, is a year-long fundraising and awareness campaign that engages more than 16,500 students who are committed to one goal: conquering childhood cancer. Since 1977, THON has raised over $190 million to benefit Four Diamonds and its mission.
“THON is a steadfast financial and emotional partner. It’s truly a dynamic relationship,” Graney said. “The students feel connected to the patients and families they’re paired with and learn firsthand how they are helped by THON. On the flip side, the families are inspired and have a completely different emotional support system from the students than they might otherwise have had.”
Although the pandemic forced students to pivot last year from the in-person dance marathon to interactive online content, they still managed to deliver, Graney said.
“They raised a tremendous amount of money and reminded us all of what can happen when we believe and put our minds and actions behind making something wonderful,” she said. “It was a beautiful demonstration that comes down to three words: For The Kids®.”
To learn more about THON’s 2022 campaign and how you can help to end childhood cancer, visit thon.org.