Q & A with Mecklin Ragan

Co-Founder of Triumph Over Kid Cancer

We’d love to learn more about you? What do you do? What are some of your passions/interests?

I’m currently in my 4th year of medical school at UT Health San Antonio, applying to residency in General Surgery. I hope to have the opportunity to go into surgical oncology, but for now I’m taking things one day at a time. Outside of school, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, playing with our family dogs, running, watching classic movies, reading, and playing the piano. And, as one might expect, I’m very passionate about helping kids with cancer and their families, and pediatric cancer related issues.

Who or what has been your biggest source of inspiration in life?

The biggest source of inspiration in my life has been, and continues to be, my brother, James. I can remember times when James was absolutely miserable – he was sick and sad and had no idea what the future held. In spite of all of the challenges James faced, he got up, he smiled, said something funny or nice and began to do something positive with his day. Some days he did school work, and when he graduated he was the salutatorian. Some days he worked to become a better golfer so that when he got to college, he could play Division I golf for the Rice Owls. But most days he worked at cancer. And James’ unrelenting ability to think of other kids like him and families like ours and new ways he could do his one thing to help them is what continues to inspire not just me, but my fellow TOKC Board Members and our supporters as well.

And while James has been the biggest source of inspiration in my life, I can’t talk about what or who inspires me without including my parents, Gloria and Jim. It has been said that the greatest loss one can experience is that of a parent losing a child, and even though as individuals, as parents, and as husband and wife they have been through some extraordinarily difficult times, they continue to be an amazing team and to love and support one another. They help to pick each other up, and me, when any of us falls. They continue to encourage me to work hard to be the best physician and person I can be and to pursue my dreams, wherever that may take me. And even though they lost their son, they continue to do their one thing each day to honor James’ memory and to help kids with cancer and their families navigate the complex and overwhelming roller-coaster that is cancer. They are the living example of the kind of person I want to be.

We know that the Triumph over Kid Cancer Foundation is close to your heart. Please tell us a little about the organization. (How did it begin? How does it help kids with cancer/cancer research?)

Although TOKC was officially founded in 2010, the idea originated in 2007 just a year after James was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma. He had completed several rounds of chemotherapy, had undergone a total knee replacement, and was about to turn 14. To celebrate we hosted a Toga Party for his 14th birthday and, in lieu of gifts, guests were asked to make donations which would be split between MD Anderson and Driscoll Children’s Hospital (our local children’s hospital in Corpus Christi). That year, we raised $40,000! At that point in time, everyone thought James was cured. Unfortunately, a few months after that first Toga Party, we learned that the cancer had metastasized to his lungs. In researching his disease, we learned that there was no cure for it, and there was no real effort to find a cure. By the time James’ birthday rolled around the following year, he had become quite the golfer, so we decided to have the Toga party once again, but this time also added a golf tournament to round out the weekend’s festivities. all of the money raised went directly to cancer research.

In the years that followed, we held annual fundraisers to raise money for cancer research, but we quickly realized that if we could find a way to formalize our efforts, we would have a greater impact with the funds we were raising. So, in 2010, we organized a non-profit called Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation (TOKC) and began funding the Children’s Sarcoma initiative at M.D. Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. TOKC committed to raise 1.5 million dollars, to be matched by M.D. Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital, and the money would create a fund, which would award grants to support new research into pediatric bone cancer. We met that goal at the end of 2013, about 1 month before James’ death.

TOKC has continued to  raise funds that go directly towards projects dedicated to finding cures for pediatric cancer.

  • In 2017, we completed our $1.5 million dollar pledge towards Pediatric Genome Research, with those funds also being matched by M.D. Anderson.

  • In 2018, we embarked on two new projects. The first is a Phase II drug trial at MD Anderson, focused on a drug that holds great promise to treat patients with osteosarcoma with lung metastasis – the very disease that took James’ life.

  • The second is a promising childhood cancer cell immunotherapy research project at Texas Children’s Hospital involving modifying children’s T cells to help their own systems do a better job of fighting their cancer.

James’ vision was a world without children’s cancer, and I and the rest of the TOKC board members, remain determined to make that vision a reality. But James also recognized that while supporting research gives kids with cancer and their families hope for a better future, there is another big piece in this puzzle – finding ways to bring some joy to the daily lives of kids with cancer. And TOKC does this with the help of our countless volunteers and the members of our #DoThatOneThing Councils, a high school program that encourages teens to become more involved in their communities and teaches them about non-profit work. Now in 10 high schools in the Coastal Bend, hundreds of high schools students from all over promote pediatric cancer awareness and help organize activities to brighten the lives of kids with cancer and their families.

 

What words of encouragement or advice would you give to other women dreaming of entering the medical field or pursuing their passions?

There’s a quote from James in the documentary “Until 20” that was made about the last year of his life and pediatric cancer where he relates his life to the game of golf that I just love.

“It hasn’t always been fairways and greens. It’s been a little bit of army golf, as we call it, which is left, right, left, right – balls going everywhere and lots of trouble – but that doesn’t mean that you give up or you try to play the game any differently. You just try figure the best way to deal with it and you go forward and you swing hard to try to get it out of the trees. You have to keep moving forward and focusing on the next shot in front of you.”

Life, whether you’re entering the medical field or pursuing any other passion you have, is full of ups and downs for everyone, not including the extra obstacles we face as women pursuing those goals. But, like James said, just because you get knocked down or hit a rough patch doesn’t mean you play the game any differently. You have to get back up, figure out the best way to deal with the adversity you are facing, and move forward because while the challenges we face in our lives may shape the people we become, they do not define us. What defines each of us is how we respond to those challenges, and I believe that if you are able to stay grounded, humble, and hungry, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.

“2019 Spotlights | Women Empowerment | Inspiring Women Today.” InspiringWomen.Today, 20 Feb. 2019, www.inspiringwomen.today/copy-of-new-spotlights.