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Hope for Autumn Foundation: Committed to a Cure

Hope for Autumn has been an early and integral supporter of the Developmental Therapeutics program at the Alabama Center for Childhood Cancers and Blood Disorders, which is 1 of only 19 centers chosen as part of the Children’s Oncology Group Phase I/II Consortium. This program allows patients with the most difficult to treat cancers to have access to some of the most promising new therapies- all without leaving their home institution. Since 2010, 68 patients have been treated on a Developmental Therapeutics study, there are currently 12 Developmental Therapeutics studies open. Dr. Friedman recently opened a groundbreaking Phase 1 study using the herpes virus to defeat medulloblastoma. With one gene removed, the virus is able to kill the tumor cells without killing healthy cells, and has proven to be safe and effective for adults. He is enrolling patients from across North America and hopes to expand by adding additional collaborative centers. His work was highlighted in a report on the Cancer Moonshot Project led by Vice President Biden. The Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders has collaborated with the pediatric surgery department and basic science researchers at UAB to develop a Xenograf Study. This project takes samples of solid tumors (newly diagnosed and recurrent) and implants them in mice. This allows samples of the tumors to grow and for investigators to learn about drug resistance and hopefully identify novel therapeutics for challenging cancers. There are currently 87 samples implanted making it one of the largest xenograft programs in pediatric oncology.

Hope for Autumn Foundation has continued to offer families affected by childhood cancer hope and assistance. Since 2011, Hope for Autumn has donated $74,755 in support of the Developmental Therapeutics program and family support. For 2014-2016, Hope for Autumn has been able to offer critical financial support to 12 families who were enrolled on Developmental Therapeutics studies. Through events such as the annual Crawfish Boil, Give Hope Day, and Fall Fizz and Fare, Hope for Autumn raises funds and awareness about childhood cancer. And as we all know, more awareness leads to more funds which gives us new and better cures.

We thank our Hope for Autumn for supporting our work at the Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders. Over the last decade and more, community support has provided seed funding for all of the programs highlighted in this report. Our dreams and goals are large, but within our reach with your continued support,” Dr Kim Whelan, director.

The Story Behind the Boil

A backyard crawfish boil to raise money for a little girl named Autumn in 2008 has become an local tradition and family favorite event, all in the name of a good cause. In 2008, the Diggs family, Travis and Anne, hosted a small neighborhood crawfish boil as a means to financially assist their family friends whose daughter, Autumn, was battling leukemia. The boil was so successful they decided to host it again in 2009. By 2010, the Lawrence family had gotten on their feet and they told the Diggs to find a local family to support.

A mutual friend introduced the Diggs to the Knerr family, whose 6 year old daughter, Emily, had recently been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Along with gratefully accepting the financial assistance, the Knerr family asked that a portion of the funds raised be donated to an innovative research program at Children’s of Alabama.

Emily and Autumn recovered, and the friendship between the Diggs and Knerrs remained.
Through their experience, they learned the desperate need for financial assistance amongst families battling childhood cancer, the need for childhood cancer research funding, and the need for childhood cancer awareness.

In 2012, Hope for Autumn Foundation was established. The foundation has evolved from a crawfish boil supporting a few families per year, to a 501(c)3 public charity with the ability to support multiple families per year with expenses such as mortgages, rent, car payments, and utilities, fund thousands of dollars of childhood cancer research, and raise awareness of childhood cancer in our community. Travis Diggs remains the president of the foundation, and Amanda Knerr the executive director.

“I had never seen or experienced such generosity towards complete strangers when the Diggs hosted the crawfish boil for us, and I vowed I would do whatever I could to give back and help others facing the same troubles in the future.”

Though Emily did relapse at the age of 13 in 2015, she is doing well now on maintenance chemo and supports the foundation’s mission as well. “My favorite day of the year is the crawfish boil!” she says.

The boil will be held April 29, 2017 from 3-9 on the Main Green of Ross Bridge. Spend your afternoon enjoying all you can eat crawfish prepared by Louisiana native John Hein, hamburgers, hot dogs and all the fixings, dancing to live music by Pioneer Chicken Stand and the Divines, and entertaining your kids with bounce houses, face painting, balloon animals and ice cream.