In the past two weeks, Dr. Rene McNall-Knapp has seen six children die from cancer.
On average, McNall-Knapp sees about 20 pediatric cancer patients die each year.
But to have a couple of weeks like this makes McNall-Knapp even more frustrated that the federal government continues to cut the amount of research dollars that it invests in understanding childhood cancers.
“In the beginning, we were only getting 4 percent of National Cancer Institute funding going to pediatric cancer anyhow,” she said. “It's pathetically underfunded.”
McNall-Knapp, a pediatric cancer specialist at OU Children's Physicians, is a member of “10 Strong,” a team of 10 mothers who are raising awareness about the lack of money around pediatric cancer research.
On Sunday, she and her teammates will be among several Oklahoma residents who will shave their heads as part of the annual St. Baldrick's Oklahoma City fundraiser.
The St. Baldrick's Foundation is a childhood cancer charity that has financed more than $103 million in grants, including grants in Oklahoma. This is more money than any other organization, except the U.S. government.
McNall-Knapp is shaving her head as a mother and as a doctor.
She adopted her 12-year-old son Jordan after he was placed in foster care while he had cancer. He was 3. Jordan had eye cancer, or retinoblastoma, and lost his left eye because of the cancer. He has been off therapy for eight years.
Before they turn 20, about 1 in 300 boys and 1 in 333 girls will have cancer, according to the foundation.
McNall-Knapp started her career in cancer research at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in 1998. Every year since then, she has seen the federal government cut 10 percent from the money allocated for pediatric cancer research.
“So there are actually questions that we want to ask that we don't have money to ask,” she said. “We have kids who would like to be on studies, and there is no study available because there's not enough money for it.”
For example, McNall-Knapp wants to research a newly approved breast cancer drug that has shown promise in treating leukemia and children's tumors. The drug company won't pay for the study, so she's looking for funding to study the drug and what impact it would have in children.
“It takes money to do that kind of thing, but it's so promising in mice,” she said. “I want to get it into kids who are dying of diseases as soon as possible.”
On Saturday, the day before McNall-Knapp goes to the St. Baldrick's event, she will go to the funeral of one of her patients.
“We need better targeted therapy, so we don't have to give our babies such toxic therapy when their bodies are growing and supposed to be developing,” she said. “That's what we're looking for.”
If you go
The St. Baldrick's Oklahoma City event is at VZD's Restaurant and Club, 4200 N Western Ave., from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday and will include live entertainment and food trucks.