By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published May 28, 2015
ATLANTA—Retirement for former 11Alive news anchor Jill Becker means a renewed commitment to CURE Childhood Cancer, an Atlanta-based nonprofit funding pediatric cancer research and patient support programs.
Becker works for CURE as a speaker, a member of its board of directors and a volunteer.
“It really is where my heart is,” said Becker, who attends St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Smyrna and Holy Spirit Church in Atlanta.
CURE’s second annual Believe Ball, held May 16 at the St. Regis Atlanta, honored Becker for her tireless commitment to CURE’s mission of curing childhood cancer in our lifetime.
When Becker learned she was the 2015 honoree, she said her first reaction was, “Why don’t you rethink this?”
The black-tie event featured included silent and live auctions, as well as the awards presentation. Hosts for the evening included Tom and Chris Glavine.
“I’m totally floored and honored,” said Becker.
Last year’s inaugural ball raised $750,000 for CURE’s mission.
Becker has been involved with CURE, initially with its Lauren’s Run event, for more than 20 years. It was Becker’s own connection to childhood cancer that moved her to support CURE.
When Becker’s son Matt was 3 years old, he was struggling with a persistent cough.
“We could not get it to go away,” recalled Becker.
At first his parents thought it was bronchitis, and then an X-ray was ordered to see if pneumonia was the cause. But the X-ray revealed something worse, a tumor and sac of fluid on one of Matt’s lungs.
“It occurred to my husband, this was not good,” she said.
The diagnosis was a T-cell lymphoma.
When they were in the hospital, Matt asked his mother, “What are we going to do Mommy about the trouble?”
She told her son, “You have to do this for me,” and they sealed the deal with a kiss.
“I felt an absolute shudder go through my body,” remembers Becker.
Later, she knew that feeling was the presence of the Holy Spirit and called it “the most miraculous moment of my life.”
Her faith was key in facing the battle with pediatric cancer.
“I don’t know how people do it without,” said Becker. “I have been Catholic all my life.”
Becker said her mother was a convert to the Catholic faith and had an amazing prayer life.
“She had God’s personal phone number,” said Becker. “Somewhere along the line I just got what I needed.”
Becker’s sister worked at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis and was helpful in speaking with doctors at Children’s Healthcare in Atlanta about what the course of treatment would be for Matt. The treatment included aggressive chemotherapy and radiation.
“They hit him pretty hard at first,” said Becker. The treatment worked and the tumor quickly became a “sliver of its former self” before remission.
“I always thank God,” said Becker.
Matt is now 28 years old and moved back to Atlanta from North Carolina a few years ago. “He’s remarkably healthy. He’s getting married next year,” said Becker.
Memories of the serious battle are few for Matt, said Becker.
“He remembers the prizes you got when you were brave,” she said.
Atlanta pediatric oncologist organized CURE
CURE was established in 1975 when childhood cancer survival rates were a bleak 10 percent. The first pediatric oncologist at Emory University, Dr. Abdel Ragab, organized a group of parents to help raise money for research and support of families with children in treatment.
“Even since the time Matt was diagnosed, significant progress has been made,” said Becker.
In 1978, CURE was able to donate $20,000 toward a special microscope to diagnose childhood leukemia. For fiscal year 2014-2015, CURE allocated $2.5 million in pediatric research grants and fellowships to support scientists at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory University, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Specific projects funded focus on finding effective treatments for the 20 percent of children who do not survive cancers. These hospitals share their findings with others.
“In our mission to cure childhood cancer in our lifetime, CURE continues to partner with some of the country’s best scientists. Together, we are working to develop more effective, less toxic treatments for pediatric cancer patients, to improve the quality of life of childhood cancer survivors, and to train the next generation of pediatric oncologists,” said Kristin Connor, executive director of CURE.
Becker never forgot the kindness that CURE showed her family during the time of Matt’s illness.
CURE offers emergency financial assistance for families stricken by childhood cancer and helps them connect with parents who’ve already battled cancer and know the treatment protocol.
This emotional support is vital, said Becker.
“You need those other people to talk to,” she emphasized. “I love it … the outreach.”
CURE volunteers provide lunches for hospital caregivers, snack and toiletry items for parents staying at a child’s bedside, hold holiday events, and an annual picnic to give families a chance to connect with one another.
There is also a Hope and Healing weekend and counseling resources for families of children who lost their lives.
Becker is quick to point out the work of many other volunteers, including Baseball Hall of Famer Glavine and his wife Chris.
Becker said the Glavines are incredibly giving and inspire her. Chris Glavine created the Quiet Heroes event of CURE, an annual September gathering that pampers mothers of cancer patients.
“They are the quiet heroes. Nobody wanted to pledge this sorority,” said Becker about the moms.
Hundreds attend the fundraising event to honor moms, raising funds for research at the same time. This year’s 11th annual event, with Becker as emcee, will be Sept. 19 in Buckhead.
“It has stayed true to what is in Chris’ heart,” said Becker.
She said that Quiet Heroes is one of her favorite afternoons of the year.
Becker believes everyone can do something to fight pediatric cancers, whether giving a contribution or volunteering in some way.
“It’s truly a wonderful organization,” said Becker. “There’s definite progress.”
For more information on volunteer opportunities with CURE or to learn about its funded research programs, visit www.curechildhoodcancer.org.