Why I Give

Couple’s Gift Leaves Legacy of Hope for Children With Cancer

by Avis Matsuda, St. Baldrick's Foundation
September 9, 2014

You can give hope to children with cancer. Get involved.

Dr. Todd Alonzo was an esteemed statistician with the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) in 2003 when the first California St. Baldrick’s events were held. He was well respected by his colleagues in the childhood cancer research arena for his expertise and knowledge.

But what would inspire this distinguished researcher to shave half his head in Southern California, fly half-shorn to Sacramento, and shave the other half there?

Todd Alonzo and Jason Alonzo with green mohawks
A brother who dyed his hair green! And a challenge to see who could raise more money for an incredible cause.

Over the next 10 years, the Alonzo brothers would raise over $38,000 for childhood cancer research with some pretty memorable shaves. Jason sported a green mohawk every year for six years before shaving, and while on vacation, he shaved at an event in County Kildare, Ireland, so he wouldn’t miss going bald. (There was no mohawk for him that year!)

Todd shaved at a prestigious COG meeting in Washington, D.C., and in 2008, he shaved with his two young sons and step-dad, Ken, to honor his mother’s battle with cancer.

Todd Alonzo and family at a St. Baldrick's event

Todd with his mom, step-dad, and two sons at a St. Baldrick’s event in 2008.

That was probably the most meaningful head-shaving for Todd. His mother, Mary Ellen, had been diagnosed with lung cancer the year before and he wanted to support her as she lost her hair to chemotherapy.

Not long after that event, she passed away.

The family was grief-stricken and struggled with the loss. The Alonzo family wanted Mary Ellen to be remembered in a way that endured beyond shared memories and stories about her. They wanted a legacy that would be a lasting reminder of all that was good about their mom’s life.

Todd shares how they decided on a legacy gift:

“One way we thought we could continue her legacy was through a donation in her name. We realize it can be difficult to discuss estate planning, but with our mother’s sudden passing we were reminded how rapidly things can change.”

As a result, their step-dad named St. Baldrick’s as one of the beneficiaries to their estate because they had always supported the organization and its cause.

Then, in 2013, Ken Wilson passed away and left a generous bequest to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation — the largest planned gift ever received.

To commemorate this milestone, a research grant was named in July in memory of Todd and Jason’s parents. The Kenneth and Mary Ellen Wilson St. Baldrick’s Research Grant pays tribute to their legacy of generosity which lives on in the service and dedication of their children and grandchildren.

The grant funds the work of Dr. Kevin Shannon at the University of California, San Francisco. He is studying treatment-induced leukemia, which can develop as a secondary cancer after kids undergo treatment for another type of childhood cancer. This research will help to understand how these leukemias develop and why they are so hard to treat, and to test new therapies.

Knowing this planned gift will continue to support the cause their parents believed in even after their deaths was a huge comfort to the family. “That means so much to us,” Todd said when he heard the news. “It would finally give us something to be happy about in all of this.”

Funding the best and most promising research is a legacy that can mean 71 years of life saved for a kid diagnosed with cancer. Imagine all the things that child can accomplish — grow up, marry and have kids of their own, create something beautiful the world has never seen, or maybe even discover a cure for cancer!

Now that’s something to really think about.

For more information about making a planned or legacy gift, email Kristina.Stewart@StBaldricks.org.

You can give hope to children with cancer. Help fund childhood cancer research.

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