Alumna Sees Cookies as Tool in Fight Against Cancer

Meredith alumna Gretchen Holt Witt, ’89, believes cookies may result in a cure for cancer. Witt, a public relations professional, is the founder of Cookies for Kids Cancer, an effort that uses cookie sales to raise awareness and money to support pediatric cancer research.

Her son, Liam, is the inspiration for Cookies for Kids Cancer.

“From the minute he was born, I knew he was a very special child,” his proud mom said. “My heart sang the minute I met him and hasn't stopped since … He is the strongest person I know with the most amazing coping skills of anyone I've ever met.” Liam and his three-year-old sister, Ella, are each other’s best friends.

Now nearly five, Liam was diagnosed at age two with Neuroblastoma, a pediatric cancer. Needing a pep talk a few days after the diagnosis, Witt asked a social worker to put her in touch with another mother whose child had been through the same treatment.

“At the other end of the line was Shirley Staples,” Witt recalls. “Shirley talked me off the cliff I was standing on and gave me the motivation I needed to keep going … at the end of the conversation, I said ‘I have a feeling you are going to be the angel who gets me through this ordeal’.”

What Witt didn’t discover until later was that Staples was a Meredith angel, a member of the class of 1971 and a fellow English major. Staples’ son, Simon, who is now in high school, had been through the same treatments as Liam.

“Simon is alive because dollars were spent for research that created the treatment he needed,” Staples said. “We can save still more lives if we can fund new treatments.”

Staples is a retired attorney who now devotes herself to pediatric cancer causes, many with Witt.

“She is my big sister in a way no other person could ever be, and I am eternally grateful to her,” Witt said.

Staples calls Witt her little sister, and said, “It is tragic to meet others in this way, but we are grateful to have each other.”

After Liam’s diagnosis, Witt and her husband, Larry Witt, discovered that pediatric cancer research is severely underfunded. No new drugs have been developed for pediatric cancer treatment in nearly 20 years. The treatments most children receive today were developed for adults and have not been proven truly safe for children.

“It just didn’t seem fair to me that we as a nation earmark such a small amount of money to the number one disease killer of children in the U.S.,” Witt said. “After all, if children are the future, wouldn’t we and shouldn’t we do everything we can to protect them?”

Her anger turned to action when she learned a promising treatment was “sitting on a shelf waiting to be developed” because of a lack of funding. She asked friends to help her sell 96,000 cookies during the holiday season.

Although Witt “didn’t realize exactly how big an undertaking it was,” the cookies sold in just three weeks, raising $400,000.

“The treatment is now in development and is looking to be more promising than originally anticipated,” Witt said. “It’s scheduled to be available sometime in late 2009 or early 2010.”

Witt sees the effort as a way to make a stand against pediatric cancer. Her goal is for “C” to someday mean cookies, not cancer.

“The thing about cancer is that it makes you feel so helpless,” Witt said. “You’re battling something you can’t see. But having a bake sale is something anyone can do, anywhere, to be a part of the solution.”

For more information on holding a bake sale or to buy cookies, visit http://www.cookiesforkidscancer.org.

Article republished from the Spring 2009 edition of Meredith Magazine.

Date Submitted: 2010-05-09

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