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updated: 2/4/2011 10:06 AM

Relay supports cancer research

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  • Emma Krzak of Elmhurst is, in most respects, a typical preschooler. But in her short life, she's fought through numerous treatments and surgeries to beat a rare eye cancer.

      Emma Krzak of Elmhurst is, in most respects, a typical preschooler. But in her short life, she's fought through numerous treatments and surgeries to beat a rare eye cancer.
    Courtesy of the Krzak family

  • Inspired by their daughter Emma's fight with cancer, Nicole and Michael Krzak of Elmhurst are part of a team riding Saturday in Cycle for Survival to raise money for rare cancer research. Emma, center left, is 4 and her sister, Faith, is 2.

      Inspired by their daughter Emma's fight with cancer, Nicole and Michael Krzak of Elmhurst are part of a team riding Saturday in Cycle for Survival to raise money for rare cancer research. Emma, center left, is 4 and her sister, Faith, is 2.
    photos Courtesy of the Krzak family

  • Emma Krzak of Elmhurst had a rough start, but has grown into a little girl who loves to play, dance and fish.

      Emma Krzak of Elmhurst had a rough start, but has grown into a little girl who loves to play, dance and fish.
    Courtesy of the Krzak family

  • An emerging treatment delivered chemotherapy directly to the cancer in Emma Krzak's right eye, stopping the disease and preserving her peripheral vision.

      An emerging treatment delivered chemotherapy directly to the cancer in Emma Krzak's right eye, stopping the disease and preserving her peripheral vision.

 
 

On Saturday, hundreds of riders will mount bikes and pedal for hours. From the looks of things it will appear they're going nowhere.

But in their heads and in their hearts, they'll know their destination has nothing to do with traveling a distance and everything to do with reaching the finish line: A time when "rare" cancers are truly rare and much more curable.

The Cycle for Survival -- a four-hour relay on stationary bikes -- supports research into rare cancers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. The term applies when fewer than 200,000 people nationwide have a single form of the disease.

More than half of all cancers are considered rare -- including pancreatic cancer, sarcoma, cervical cancer, brain cancer, metastatic melanoma, stomach cancer and all forms of pediatric cancer. Together, they affect millions of people. Yet less money is available for research into rare cancers, resulting in fewer treatment options.

Though Memorial Sloan-Kettering is in New York, patients travel from all over the country seeking treatment for their individual forms of cancer.

The Krzak family of Elmhurst has seen first hand the difference the cancer center can make.

At just a month old, Emma Krzak was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer. When traditional chemotherapy and laser surgeries failed to keep the cancer at bay, the family turned to Memorial Sloan-Kettering for a treatment that has put her cancer in remission for three years.

On Saturday, Feb. 5, Emma's parents and supporters will ride in the Cycle for Survival in Chicago, hoping to help other families cross their own finish lines in the race against cancer.

Today, Emma's father, Michael Krzak, tells us more about her treatment and the family's commitment to curing cancer.

Inspiration can be born from unexpected circumstances. Ours came when our daughter, Emma, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at 5 weeks of age. That day, we vowed to do whatever it took to fight this disease and to make sure others facing rare cancers have a chance. On Saturday, Feb. 5, we continue the fight by participating in an event called Cycle for Survival, which was founded to build awareness and to raise research funding for rare cancers.

In December 2006, while I was feeding Emma her evening bottle, her eye flashed like a cat's eye. My wife saw the same flash a day earlier. We knew something wasn't right. The next day, Emma was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer. Coincidentally, as an attorney, I had handled a case involving the same cancer and knew there weren't many options.

Over the next 14 months, Emma had eight rounds of chemotherapy and multiple laser surgical procedures to her eye. She briefly went into remission, but ultimately the growth came back. We were told Emma's eye would have to be removed so the cancer would not spread. At the same time, we learned that a doctor in New York City had successfully begun using a different approach to treating this cancer.

In an effort to save her eye, we took Emma to New York City where we met Dr. David Abramson from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In the next three weeks, Emma had two major surgical procedures which took several hours and involved running a catheter from the femoral artery in her leg to her eye where chemotherapy was delivered directly to her tumor site.

Miraculously, it worked, and Emma has been in remission for almost three years. She has peripheral vision in her right eye, and it's possible that future technological and medical advancements could restore her full vision someday.

Looking at Emma, one would not guess the battle she has faced. She is a very happy little girl who loves to dance, play and go fishing in Wisconsin -- a far cry from the 5-week-old girl who had a venous port inserted into her body, went through eight rounds of chemotherapy, endured multiple surgical procedures, and was under anesthesia more than 30 times in the first 16 months of her life.

When people ask us how you deal with your young child having cancer, the answer is quite simple -- you deal with it. You're catapulted into the universe called cancer; you don't have a choice, and there's nothing you can do about it. Emma has taught us that anybody can be affected by cancer and that cancer is everybody's business. She has taught us that life is not what you've got, it's what you give. Today, we are asking the people of the greater Chicago area to be inspired by Emma and make cancers their business.

Our team, Emma's Eight, will be participating in Cycle for Survival in Chicago on Saturday, Feb. 5. We encourage you to read about this event and get involved today by donating to our team at mskcc.convio.net/goto/emmaseight

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