There he was, the president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with egg on his face.
Doug Boles, dressed in a suit and tie, was a good sport about the mess dripping off his head. One by one, three cancer patients and three health team members from Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, cracked an egg on his once perfectly coiffed head of hair as he sat on the famed Yard of Bricks in the shadow of the pagoda.
Six eggs, six splats. Lots of laughs and cheers. “We’re all cracking up,” said one young patient.
It was all part of #crackcancer, a social media movement designed to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer research.
Boles was challenged to #crackcancer by Chip Wile, president of the Daytona International Speedway, and he heartily agreed, noting the special relationship between IMS and Riley.
“Our partners at Riley do amazing things for kids and for families,” he said.
U.S. News & World Report released its 2019-20 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings today, and Riley’s cancer program jumped from 44th best in the nation to 15th this year.
Egg-crackers in chief were Mason Garvey, 8; Maddox Amador, 7; and Cameron Kirk, 11. Each boy has been treated at Riley for cancer. Also armed with eggs were oncologists Dr. Alex Lion and Dr. Sandeep Batra and nurse practitioner Stayce Woodburn, who works with the stem cell transplant team.
For Dr. Lion, being at the famed oval on a beautiful June day was a treat, though cracking eggs on a man’s head was admittedly “a strange thing to do.” But as a pediatric hematology-oncology physician and a father, it was also the right thing to do.
“Besides doing the work of taking care of these children, I think that raising awareness that we need the help of the community to do that is important,” he said, acknowledging that funding for pediatric cancer research is significantly behind that of adult research.
Maddox, who finished treatment for leukemia in January under Dr. Lion’s care, was eager to get cracking on his assignment at the track. At home, he loves splashing water balloons with his younger brother, so this would be right up his alley. Maddox and his family leave next month for his Make-A-Wish trip – a Disney cruise.
Heather and Kevin Garvey, parents of Mason, jumped at the chance to be here for the #crackcancer challenge.
“Pediatric cancer is severely underfunded,” Heather said. “Anything that brings awareness to pediatric cancer research is extremely important.” Money raised “allows hospitals like Riley who are doing cutting-edge research to help our kids survive.”
The Garveys’ world changed “in the blink of an eye” when Mason was diagnosed in September 2018 with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma. A tumor in his pelvis metastasized into his lymph nodes and lungs, but scans in February revealed the mass in his pelvis had shrunk and one of his lungs is clear.
“The care we get at Riley has been amazing,” Heather said. “The hem-onc floor we just love like family.”
Mason used to get really scared and cry before his chemo treatments, she said, but his nurses worked with him and the family to ease his fears and make him feel welcome. He had his last treatment Friday.
Last week, he took a practice run with an egg to his dad’s head.
“It was hilarious, I was cracking up,” Heather said.
As Carrie Kirk’s son, Cameron, tried out the driver’s seat in an Indianapolis 500 pace car, she talked about his leukemia treatments.
“There can never be too much research for our kids. We need better treatments and to figure out how it affects their body later.”
As Woodburn got in line to smash an egg on the head of a relative stranger, she laughed at the absurdity of it but was serious about the reason behind it.
“Adults get a lot more attention than the pediatric population,” she said. “This is another way to educate people about the number of patients and kiddos that are affected by pediatric cancer. I am here to help advocate for and support cancer research, specifically with new clinical trials that are happening and new FDA-approved medications. I think we’ll see a lot of advancements in the next couple of years.”
According to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, just 4% of federal government cancer research funding goes to study pediatric cancer. Meanwhile, 43 children around the country are expected to be diagnosed with cancer every day. Most childhood cancer survivors will have a significant health-related issue by the time they reach the age of 45. These are either side effects of the cancer or the result of its treatment.
As he removed his glasses and prepared to get egged, Boles encouraged people to reach out to families facing cancer. “You can pray for them, call them and also donate to places like Riley Children’s Foundation.”
Boles issued the next #crackcancer challenge to Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud and Brickyard 400 winner Brad Keselowski, both drivers for Team Penske: “Simon and Brad, you’re up. Take the #crackcancer challenge.”