When Dan and Meg Kresach lost their 22-year-old daughter Olivia to an aggressive form of brain cancer, they both wanted to help others facing similar daunting situations, including other young adults being treated at Rush.
To make their hope a reality, the Kresachs started BrainUp, a grass-roots nonprofit to raise funding for brain cancer research and treatment, while building awareness and connecting patients and their loved ones with resources. In just two years since creating BrainUp, the Kresachs have raised more than $400,000 for brain cancer efforts through events and other outreach.
“Brain cancer is frightening to people and doesn’t get the attention it deserves,” said Meg Kresach. “We found that there aren’t as many dollars put behind it as with other forms of the disease. That’s exactly what we’re trying to change for people like us and our only daughter whom we lost.”
According to the American Brain Tumor Association, brain and central nervous system tumors are the third most common cancer in people between the ages of 15 and 39, and the type most frequently diagnosed among people in that age group are gliomas — the type Olivia had. Gliomas have a much lower survival rate than other brain tumors, and the rates have only improved by 3 percent in the last 23 years. Young adults with brain cancer represent only a small fraction of overall brain tumor patients, and as a result research and support are rare specifically for this age group.
With these challenges in mind, the Kresachs, from Frankfort, Illinois, especially wanted to help enrich treatment and research efforts locally. In December 2017, BrainUp donated $50,000 toward the development of a comprehensive brain tumor database, as well as adolescent and young adult, or AYA, tumor replication and cell line testing – both projects that will enhance research capabilities and lay the foundation to provide precision medicine for patients with brain cancer.
In addition to helping others facing similar challenges, the Kresachs are grateful for the treatment Olivia received at Rush under neurosurgeon Lorenzo Muñoz, MD.
“Helping patients connect with clinical trials is the best way to push this field forward and give the best treatment options for patients, especially if they are limited by finances,” said Clement Pillainayagam, MD, neuro-oncologist and assistant professor in neurological sciences at Rush, who will be co-leading research efforts. Clement received the Olivia Kresach Medal of Excellence Award at the BrainUp 5K on Sunday, Oct. 6.
"I am honored to receive the award at this year's event," Clement said. "It’s especially meaningful, as Olivia was treated here at Rush. We’re grateful to carry on her legacy through research and patient support initiatives that are only possible because of generous partners like BrainUp and those who run and walk to improve the lives of those living with brain cancer."
The funding is supporting a research study aimed at identifying the unique mental health needs of AYA patients to help address the intense life changes that happen in relation to cancer treatment.
“It’s very important that we meet the mental needs of young brain cancer patients and their families, as well as the medical needs,” said Joo Yeon Nam, MD, neuro-oncologist and assistant professor in neurological sciences at Rush, who will also be co-leading research efforts. “We need to support them through treatment and survivorship.”
Learn more about BrainUp online at www.brainup.ngo.