- Our Story
- Board Of Directors
The Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation has been coming gradually into existence since 2007. I was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2006 at the age of 13. By the time my next birthday rolled around I couldn't think of anything I really wanted for my birthday, so I decided to throw a Toga Party, have guests give 50 dollars instead of a gift, and then split the money raised between the pediatric oncology departments at Driscoll Children's Hospital and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. The theme was Triumph Over Kid Cancer – Fighting Kid Cancer One Toga Party at a time since 2007! Not only was it a lot of fun, but we raised about 40,000 dollars. By the time another year rolled by, I decided to try to raise more money by adding a golf tournament to it. We kept the same theme and this time raised over $100,000.00, and also did well in 2009. While all this was going well though, my cancer wasn't. One of the problems with bone cancer (and other cancers as well) is that the cancers metastasize into other parts of the body. For me, it metastasized into my lungs. When they first told me that, I realized that the only thing worse than being told you have cancer, is being told you have cancer AGAIN! The first treatments for the bone cancer were bad enough. There were months of heavy chemotherapy with horrible side effects, followed by surgery that removed 40% of my femur, my knee and 20% of my tibia and replaced them with metal, followed by months of physical therapy to regain use of my leg, followed by several more months of chemotherapy. With lung metastases, they have to go into your chest cavity, remove you lung, cut out the tumors, reinsert the lung and re-inflate it. The recovery period is long and painful. After the third lung surgery, I was asking my doctor about future drug treatment options to be used in conjunction with my surgeries. Unfortunately, he explained to me that there weren't really any treatment options that offered a cure, and that I should live my life when I was healthy and have the tumors removed as they recurred for as long as I could. There simply weren't any treatment options with any proven scientific benefit.
After that discussion, I thought a lot about the situation and began to look into why there had been no advances in treatment of this disease since long before I was even born. The problem (aside from the fact that understanding cancer and how to treat it is very complex) is that there are only about 1500 new bone cancer cases a year, so there is not a large market for a drug that could treat bone cancer even if you had it. So there is no incentive on drug companies to pump a lot of money into finding a cure because there is no large profit potential. I also learned that cancer research is very expensive. For example, at some point nearly all cancer drugs are tested on special genetically designed mice. These mice, because of the complexity in building them to a particular genetic model can cost as much as 10,000.00 dollars per mouse. So you can imagine the cost of an entire research project. While I have been fortunate so far and have the ability to live a full life when I was not in cancer treatment, I have watched many of my friends with the same or related cancers get worse and worse over time and die an ugly and painful death. The combined effect of all of this was that I realized that nothing would change unless normal people did something, and since there is no time like the present, I and my friends and family (especially my sister Mecklin) formally organized the Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation.
You will notice that in our logo (the logo was designed by my cousin Ely and me) the "O" is a circle with a design in it being held up by a child. The design in the circle is from the original Toga Party. As gifts to the people who came, we gave belt buckles. The buckles were designed to symbolize my successful (to that point) fight against Osteosarcoma. The background is a magnification of actual Osteosarcoma cells. Superimposed over it is a tree trunk to symbolize life and strength. Engraved in the trunk of the tree is the word TRIUMPH. Thus the name Triumph Over Kid Cancer.
I know that it is difficult if not impossible to understand the importance of cancer until it hits you or a family member. I know I never even considered it until it hit me. But the problem with it is that it can strike anyone at any time. We were just a normal family and I was a normal kid. I went to school, studied, played sports, went to parties… everything was normal and I never had any reason to even think about cancer. It is natural not to think of it if it doesn't directly affect you. But there are two reasons I would like you to think about when deciding whether or not and to what extent to help our foundation. First, the kids who suffer with this disease are typically happy athletic outgoing kids who for no reason find themselves over a period of 2 – 5 years dying a slow death that is both physically painful for them and emotionally painful for their friends and families. Nearly every religion or philosophy in the world teaches that all of us should help others who are facing difficulties, and I can tell you that the people afflicted with pediatric bone cancer are seriously facing difficulties. Second, the disease strikes normal every day people from all walks of life. I hope desperately that it never touches anyone in your life. But I can promise you, that if you help us now, and it ever does affect someone you are close to, you will remember the day that you helped us Triumph Over Kid Cancer.
Our mission at Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation has been defined by the painful and tortuous deaths of the many children who have died from Pediatric Cancers. Each year, 175,000 children are diagnosed with Pediatric Cancer, and that number continues to rise. With only 4% of federal research funding going to Pediatric Cancer Research, there is a great need for funding to support research into treatments to help cure these children. Therefore, our primary mission is to raise awareness and funds to try to improve treatment and survivability of Pediatric Cancer.
While research is an essential part of improving the futures and outcomes for children with Pediatric Cancer, it is just one piece of the puzzle. Every day, children with cancer have to undergo invasive tests, scans exposing them to radiation, difficult chemotherapies, surgeries with long painful recoveries, radiation treatment, and an endless list of things no child should ever have to go through. Thus, the other part of that puzzle, and our mission, is to bring some joy and happiness into the daily lives of children with cancer.
By far, our overarching goal is to raise money to support research into new treatment methods in the hope of finding cures for Pediatric Bone Cancer. The funding for this type of research has been notably absent for the past few decades and our goal is to change that. We intend to have fundraisers in other cities similar to the Toga Party/Golf tournament that we have now, in Corpus Christi. It is our goal (and we believe it to be realistic), to raise 1.5 million dollars by 2012. Through collaborative work with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, they have agreed to MATCH our funds Dollar for Dollar. As a result, we will have raised at least 3 million dollars for Pediatric Sarcoma Research by 2012. Cancer researchers believe this is a significant start to solving the complex problems of Pediatric Bone Cancer. A committee of three doctors, Dr. Valerae O. Lewis, Dr. Pete Anderson, and Dr. Vinod Ravi and one TOKC Board Member will solicit proposals for research projects on Pediatric Sarcoma and then arrive at a consensus on the projects most likely to lead to progress.
While that is our principal goal, there is another avenue that we feel will improve survival rates from Pediatric Bone Cancer. Early detection greatly improves the survivability of theses cancers, but because they are uncommon, and because their symptoms are often similar to other symptoms children have like athletic pains, growing pains etc., it is easy for pediatric cancers to go undiagnosed for quite some time, increasing the likelihood of complications like metastases. Therefore, we have adopted as our secondary goal to provide education regarding the signs, symptoms and diagnosis of bone cancers to try to make an immediate impact on survivability rates by promoting early detection.
Finally, one of the things James learned while going through cancer was that spending time with other cancer patients in a non-cancer environment is an incredible way to build strength and spirit to help maintain the courage to continue fighting through the grueling cancer treatments. Therefore, we have decided to allocate 10% of the money raised to the Sunshine Kids Foundation to support its work in providing meaningful opportunities to, for short periods of time, get away from cancer treatment and spend time with other cancer kids in fun environments. Sometimes, just having the chance to be a kid again, even for a few days is enough to give you the strength and hope to survive.
We are proud to state that due to hard work by many volunteers, 100% of funds raised go directly to the activities listed above without administrative expenses.
Thank you for all of the support you have shown me in the past and I know that together we can end the tragedy of Pediatric Bone Cancer.
When I decided to create an organization dedicated to improving treatments for and increasing public knowledge about pediatric bone cancer, I turned to the person closest to me. Obviously my sister Mecklin who has always been, well, like a sister to me. But not just any sister. Really the best sister you could imagine. She has been a constant source of support for me and continually made huge personal sacrifices to help me. Over the past four years, my parents have had most of their time and energy on me and Mecklin has shouldered many responsibilities successfully without the help that many teenagers receive. She has been there with me throughout this ordeal and she deeply understands the issues in pediatric bone cancer. I also turned to several close friends. John and Michelle Hennessey who have been an endless source of support and cheer for years and whose business experience will help us greatly. Omar Abou-Sayed who I've known since I was in pre-school, shares my fascination with Star Wars and always brought me chocolate chip cookies while I was in the hospital. TOKC is very fortunate to have a Harvard M.B.A. Graduate guiding us along the way. Kathy Wiedorn who has been caring and supportive during my seemingly endless relationship with M.D. Anderson. Her organizational skills, knowledge of the law and passion for TOKC will be invaluable. Last but not least, not only does Cynthia Coffman help make all of my experiences at M.D. Anderson better but she has also agreed to help us with the foundation. Her communication skills and knowledge of the cancer research community will be a great asset to us while striving to meet our goals. I am proud to have them on our board of directors, and their biographies speak to their accomplishments. I am also thankful for their willingness to help give kids who get pediatric bone cancer tomorrow, a greater hope than those who have it today.
Founding Board Members
James A. Ragan
James is currently a sophmore at Rice University. In June of 2006, shortly after his 13th birthday, James was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in his left knee. He had to undergo several months of chemotherapy both intra-arterially directly to the tumor site and systemically. They then removed a large portion of his left leg (40% of his femur, his knee, and 20 of his tibia) and replaced it with metal implants. This was followed by several more months of chemotherapy. While this was a difficult trial for James, it was compounded by the fact that due to the surgery and implant, he could also no longer play tennis again and he was obsessed with tennis. Before his diagnosis, he was a highly ranked junior player and hoped to play division one tennis. Unfortunately, his problems would get worse. By the summer of 2007, he was in apparent remission. He had also been told that even though he couldn't play tennis he could play golf. He had taken it up and was playing well enough to play Varsity Golf at Mary Carroll High School and qualified to play the Texas State Junior Championship. He was even elected President of his class in school. Things seemed to be going well, but in October of 2007, he learned that the bone cancer had metastasized to his lungs. This is the most common site of Osteosarcoma metastases and unfortunately there is no known successful treatment for Osteosarcoma metastases. He had the tumors surgically removed but they have continued to recur. He has now had 3 lung surgeries and was recently diagnosed with more growth in his lungs. Throughout all of that, he has continued to improve at golf and recently won the Legends Junior Tour event at River Hill Country Club in Kerrville, thus qualifying for several prestigious junior tournaments including the Junior Byron Nelson tournament. While doing all of that, he has kept up with his studies and enjoys spending time with family and friends.
Perhaps more importantly than continuing to live his life as well as he can despite all of the difficulties, James has demonstrated a willingness and desire to help other children with cancer. His first birthday after being diagnosed, he decided that he really didn't need anything for his birthday and instead hosted a toga party with a 50 dollar admission fee with the proceeds being split between M.D. Anderson and Driscoll Children's Hospital's pediatric oncology units. The event was such a success that the next year coupled the toga party with a golf tournament and had even more success. He continues to have them as an annual event, and they have raised nearly $250,000.00 for cancer research. In addition to that he has helped the Cattle Barons organization in their fund raising efforts that raised over $60,000.00 for Osteosarcoma research. He has helped Cure Search lobby for federal funding of cancer research, and recently concluded serving a 12 month term as one of four national spokeskids for The Sunshine Kids. He continues to help and support this organization because of the big impact the group has in helping give kids with cancer a better attitude to deal with and fight their disease. By sponsoring trips to for cancer patients to places like California, Florida, Hawaii, New Orleans and Las Vegas, the Sunshine Kids gives them the opportunity to spend a few days away from the difficulties of their disease, and also gives them an opportunity to spend time with other kids going through the same thing they do. From James' first trip with the Sunshine kids, he realized the impact the group makes on children everywhere who are fighting an extraordinarily difficult life. He also spends time with other cancer patients who are worse off than he is or who are newly diagnosed helping to give them hope and courage as they face their disease.
While for the past three years his personal fundraising has been solely through his annual birthday/toga/golf party, he has now committed to himself to making the Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation a more effective ongoing concern to have a significant impact on cancer research for Pediatric Bone Cancer. Because the number of cases are around 1500 a year (and thus there is not a big market for drugs to treat the disease), this disease gets little research funding. Consequently, there have been very few changes in treatment or survival rates over the last 30 years. James believes that through a large and comprehensive Foundation, that can be changed.
Mecklin Ragan is a 21 year old Senior at Rice University, and she is also one of Rice's Barbara Jordan Scholars who are recognized for their potential commitments to society and their ability to build bridges between cultural racial and ethnic groups.
She was elected to serve as Duncan Residential College's First External Vice-President, Secretary of B.R.A.I.N. (Building Rice Academics in Neuroscience) Club and selected to attend Impact Rice Leadership Seminar. She also plays tennis for the Rice Women's Tennis team. A graduate of Mary Carroll High School in Corpus Christi, Mecklin graduated Valedictorian. While representing CHS at the Texas Capital Area Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership Conference in Austin, Mecklin was chosen as the Texas female delegate to the Hoby World Leadership Conference in Washington, D. C., where she was selected to deliver the closing address on behalf of the American Delegation. Active in community service, Mecklin worked on the Corpus Christi Youth Advisory Council, Planned Parenthood, and was the Youth Representative to the State Executive Committee for the March of Dimes. With her brother, James, she has also worked to raise funds for pediatric oncology, and specifically for Osteosarcoma research. She has also been a speaker with her brother at the Craig Biggio Sunshine Kids Celebrity Gala and Golf Classic, and also at the Cattle Barons event targeting Osteosarcoma research. Her goal is to go into cancer research after graduating from medical school. She is the proud sister of James A. Ragan.
Other Board Members
Omar Abou-Sayed is the Vice President of Corporate Development for Elevance Renewable Sciences, a cutting edge start-up in the renewable energy sector. He began his career in oil and gas, working for BP in a variety of engineering, business, and senior leadership roles. In 2007 he was part of a team of executives who left BP and were retained by a TPG, one of the world's large private equity firms, to advise them on opportunities and deals in the energy sector. Omar's current work is an outgrowth of those efforts. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and and Masters in Business Administration from the Harvard Business School. Omar lives in Houston with his wife Mikhal (James' cousin) and has been part of "the family" for almost 15 years.
Cynthia Coffman has a storied history in the medical field. Having gotten her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing in 1975, she has worked effectively in the management of a variety of hospitals since then. Since 2003, she has worked as the Senior Patient Affairs Specialist at M. D. Anderson, making the transition from normal life to cancer treatment as livable as possible for people whose lives are disrupted by cancer. She has a thorough knowledge of the health care field, with strong leadership and communication skills. She is a high energy motivator, and she is especially excited about working with the Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation. As the mother of her daughter Angela and Grandmother of 2 year old Trent, she has a special drive to do work that helps families. Her experience over the years with James and hundreds of other children who were victims of cancer gives her a special appreciation for the mission of this foundation.
John W. Hennessey II
John W. Hennessey II is currently the CFO of Diversified Foods Inc. in Metairie, Louisiana. Diversified Foods is a family owned business which Mr. Hennessey has been a part of since 1986. Mr. Hennessey was born and raised in the Irish Channel of New Orleans, Louisiana. He graduated from the University of New Orleans in 1986. He received a Bachelors degree in Business Administration with a Computer Science minor. He married Michelle Damiens in 1987 and is the proud father of two sons, Taylor 18 and Zachary 16.
Mr. Hennessey has been deeply involved in his community while at the same time spending quality time with his two boys. He coached at Lakeshore Playground and the Lafreniere Soccer Association for 8 years in addition to serving as a Youth Minister for St Angela Merici Parish. Mr. Hennessey is also the Founder and Captain of Team Bovine Paceline, which is a cycling team that raises funds for several different charitable causes. In 2009 he was named Secretary of the Marcel J. Damiens Family Foundation. He is also an active member of Southern Yacht Club and the Corinthian Sailing Association where he served as Treasurer and Rear Commodore in 1998.
Mr. Hennessey is an avid cyclist and enjoys sailing. Through his cycling teams' hard efforts, they have raised thousands of dollars for several charitable organizations. Mr. Hennessey is passionate about staying active while at the same time contributing to those in need.
Michelle Hennessey was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. She is the youngest of five children and the proud daughter of the late Marcel J. Damiens and Eva Margaret Damiens. She is a 1997 graduate of the University of New Orleans with a bachelor's of Science degree in Management. Mrs. Hennessey is the co-owner and President of Diversified Foods Incorporated, a family owned business that distributes food products both domestically and internationally. She has enjoyed this ownership, along with her brother Tab J. Damiens and husband John Hennessey, since 1989. Mrs. Hennessey currently serves as a Director of the Marcel J. Damiens Family Foundation. This Foundation was created as a tribute to her father who died of colon cancer.
In 1987 she married John Hennessey and in 1992 and 1993 they were blessed with their two sons, Taylor and Zachary. Also during this time, she served on the board of The World Trade Club of Greater New Orleans. During Mrs. Hennessey's 7 year tenor with The World Trade Club she was granted the Outstanding Member Award in 1993, was elected President in 1997, and granted the Certificate of Merit Award by the City of New Orleans in 1998. She was very involved in their school and church community. Her involvement included serving on the St. Angela Parish Fair committee from 1998 – 2003, co-chairing the event for two years, co- chairing the St. Angela Parish $10,000.00 Raffle for two years, and served on the Pastoral Council for 1 year. Along with her community service she tried to attend every track meet, soccer, baseball, basketball, volleyball, and lacrosse game her son's participated in.
Today, Mrs. Hennessey, along with her husband John, enjoys the day to day challenges and successes of the family business.
Charles A. Hicks
Charlie "Cha-Cha" Hicks proudly joined the TOKC Board of Directors in 2012 at the request of the foundation's founder, James Ragan. Sharing golf as a passion, Cha-Cha and James have developed a friendship that crosses generational lines with both gaining perspective from each other during their rides together on the golf course. Cha-Cha serves as Dealer Principal for his family's automotive operations in Corpus Christi, representing Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, and Infiniti franchises. The Hicks family is committed to the Coastal Bend community and dedicates their time and resources to enriching the lives of its citizens through education and economic growth. Cha-Cha has served in leadership positions of several area organizations including the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay and the Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Corporation. Nissan and Mercedes-Benz dealers in the United States have elected Cha-Cha to serve as their representative on their respective National Dealer Advisory Boards to foster the partnership between the manufacturers and their dealer network.
While attending the University of Texas in Austin, Cha-Cha met his lovely bride Susan (Crow) and they relocated to Corpus Christi after their graduations in 1984 and marriage in 1985. They have a beautiful daughter Hannah who also graduated from the University of Texas in Austin and is now pursuing a degree in Culinary Arts from the Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Academy in California.
Kathryn T. Wiedorn is a partner in the law firm of Pelleteri and Wiedorn in New Orleans, La.. Her practice involves civil litigation, with a concentration in insurance defense. She was born in New Orleans and graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School. She attended the University of New Orleans and graduated in 1978, at which time she was awarded the Outstanding Political Science Graduate Award. She then graduated from Loyola Law School in 1982. Kathryn was the law clerk for the Honorable Judge Henry Roberts in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans for one year and has been in private practice since. Kathryn has been a strong supporter of private efforts to help Osteosarcoma research in the past and continues her commitment to this cause by her service on this board. She has also been involved in numerous community and charitable activities. She is currently a board member of the Metairie Road Business Association.
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