Alumna’s Fight Against Cancer Makes CBS News

Meredith alumna Gretchen Holt, ’89, believes cookies may result in a cure for cancer. Holt, 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. Their story was recently featured on CBS News.

“From the minute he was born, I knew he was a very special child,” Liam’s 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, Holt 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,” Holt 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 Holt 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 Holt.

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

Staples calls Holt 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, Holt 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.,” Holt 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 Holt “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,” Holt said. “It’s scheduled to be available sometime in late 2009 or early 2010.”

Holt 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,” Holt 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.”

Date Submitted: 2009-05-18

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