By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Cancer is arguably one of the most dreaded words on the planet. For many, the only thing worse than being diagnosed with cancer themselves is having their child diagnosed with cancer. According to a 2020 report by the American Cancer Society, over 11,000 cancers cases were estimated to be diagnosed among children ages 0 to 14.
Last month, Northwestern Mutual announced it was committing $5 million to Children’s Wisconsin and the MACC Fund Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders through its foundation. The funding will be spread across the next five years through 2025, according to the press release.
Lauren Giuliani, the executive director of the MACC Fund Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Wisconsin, said in email interview that Children’s Wisconsin was grateful to Northwestern Mutual for the grant.
Giuliani explained that Children’s Wisconsin is committed to providing comprehensive care to patients including child life, music therapy and recreation therapy.
“These supportive services are integral to patient support, but do not generate their own revenue,” she said. “This generous gift from Northwestern Mutual, through its foundation, allows us to continue these comprehensive services in our program, and to add new support for our patients and families we otherwise would be challenged to offer.”
Eric Christopherson, president of Northwestern Mutual Foundation, said in an email interview that through its childhood cancer program, the foundation has contributed more than $35 million to and funded over 455,000 hours of research. He said that the foundation has focused on advancing childhood cancer research since 2012.
Christopherson said that less than 4% of federal funding goes toward pediatric cancer care.
“We know that research is the engine that drives change. Philanthropy and organizations creating awareness for this disease is critical,” he said. “Our goal is to continue to provide families and patients with resources to help them manage the physical and emotional long-term effects of cancer and treatment.”
Giuliani said that the grant will fund existing programs, but it will also support new programs such as hospital navigators. The hospital navigator will offer support and guidance to patients and their families. This includes making sure they have the education they need to understand the diagnosis and to connect with resources.
Some of the funding will go toward the Sickle Cell Program and its own navigator program. Giuliani said that only about 10% of a patient’s outcome is based on the direct patient care provided by Children’s Wisconsin, the rest is impacted by nutrition and the environment.
“This navigator will be groundbreaking for our Sickle Cell Program and help us more comprehensively care for the whole child, not just the medical condition,” she said.
Christopherson added that in addition to the in-hospital navigator position, there will also be a community navigator that will work with resident in the Amani and Metcalfe Park neighborhoods.
Sickle cell disease impacts African American communities at higher rates, he said, and similar to childhood cancer, sickle cell disease is life-threatening and requires comprehensive therapy. The sickle cell navigator program is a part of the organizations joint effort to address health equity in Wisconsin.
The future of pediatric care and philanthropy focuses on care and treatment, advocacy for kids, research, and education, Giuliani said.
“Philanthropy plays a role in each of these, and we are thankful at Children’s Wisconsin for the community partners – big and small – who support our work,” she said.