It is bittersweet when Beth Besner of Davie thinks back to the final days of her 11-year-old son, Ian. The fifth-grader died in 2006, four months after being diagnosed with T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, known as ALL.
A rigorous regimen of chemotherapy weakened Ian’s immune system, and on Mother’s Day 2006, he went into the hospital with a fever, and never came out. The meningitis that took hold of her son’s weakened body killed him, Besner said. It was 15 days after he went into remission.
“In Ian’s particular case, he didn’t die from the disease,” she said. “He died from the side effects of the chemo treatment.”
In 2007, Beth and husband, Brad Besner, formed the I Care I Cure Children’s Cancer Foundation to raise funds to find gentler cures for pediatric cancer. To date, the foundation has given $859,000 in grant money to cancer research institutes around the country.
I Care I Cure will hold a Celebrity Chef Wine and Culinary Experience fundraiser Nov. 3 at Marlins Park. At the event, five chefs will conduct cooking demonstrations, and attendees will sample the dishes, along with a wine pairing. Tickets are $200.
Current cancer treatments use the shotgun approach to destroy all fast-replicating cells, Besner said, which is why there are side effects like hair loss. Money raised will fund research to develop targeted pediatric therapies to destroy only cancer-causing genes, which are easier on a child’s body, she said.
Ian was diagnosed with ALL a week shy of his 11th birthday. The bright, outgoing Little League baseball player was quickly put on chemotherapy to treat the aggressive cancer. Drugs were administered intravenously and through injections in his leg muscles and spine. The drugs were so toxic that Besner had to wear heavy gloves when she changed her son’s bedpan.
Ian developed painful mouth sores that made it difficult for him to eat. He had bouts of nausea and vomiting, and he lost his hair. Embarrassed by his looks and weakened state, Ian didn’t want friends to see him. And he dreaded the treatments, Besner said.
“It got so bad that Ian would shake in fear when the nurses entered the room with a bag of chemotherapy drugs,” she said.
With his immune system depleted, Ian could no longer play baseball, skateboard or hang out with his friends. Besner remembers taking the family to a drive-in movie so that Ian could have an outing.
“The isolation was hard on him,” she said.
The treatments continued, for two or three weeks in the hospital at a time. He went home in between, until his immune system recovered and he was ready for the next round. Besner said Ian received four rounds of treatment before he contracted meningitis and died.
“All this toxic stuff goes into the kids’ bodies to stave off the cancer, without regard to the long-term effects,” Besner said.
About 63 percent of children treated for cancer have long-term health problems, including mental disabilities, structural deformities and heart problems, Besner said. Targeted cancer treatments would help lessen those effects.
Dr. Deborah Kramer, a pediatric oncologist at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, treated Ian, and has remained in contact with the family.
“The goal of targeted cancer therapies is to develop unique antibodies that attack the growth factors that promote new blood vessels to supply the tumor or cancer,” Kramer said. “The benefit is that it limits global toxicities from affecting a developing child.”
After Ian died, Besner was anxious about whether her other sons, Grant, now 16, and Noah, now 14, were at risk. (They weren’t.) The Besners learned about Dr. Thomas Look at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School, and visited him in his lab, where he and other scientists were working on targeted therapies.
“That got our eyes open, that we should get behind targeted therapy,” Besner said.
In 2008, Besner helped found what is now known as the Coalition Against Childhood Cancer, www.cac2.org, which helps pediatric cancer charities pool resources to review and fund grants.
“Even if the research we’re funding has the potential to save 20, 30, or 100 kids, it’s worth it,” Besner said. “This should be important to anyone who has a child that they love, because cancer can strike at any time.”
The celebrity chef fundraiser was the brainchild of Michael Moran, chef instructor at Florida International University, and his wife, Elaina, whose son David was a close friend of Ian’s. Other participating chefs are Norman Van Aken, director of Tuyo Restaurant at the Miami Culinary Institute; Dena Marino, chef owner of MC Kitchen in Miami; Max Santiago, executive pastry chef at Swine Southern Table and Bar in Coral Gables; and Vince Naverete, executive sous chef for Levy Restaurants at Marlins Park.
“Children need targeted treatments and the community needs to be informed,” Moran said. “What better way to get the word out than a celebrity chef dinner? Ian would have liked that.”
Besner said the research is being done. It just needs funding.
“The faster we raise money,” she said. “The sooner it can happen.”