Two families united in fight for childhood cancer research funding

Fight for cancer research

Last Updated Jan 22, 2018 4:27 PM EST

Our continuing series, A More Perfect Union, aims to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. Only about four percent of federal funding for cancer research is set aside specifically for childhood cancers. The grim reality is that 17 percent of kids who are diagnosed will not survive. In this installment, we meet two families whose bond was forged in battle with a common enemy. 

To 6-year-old Hazel Hammersley, her make-believe restaurant was as real as ever. She seemed like a kid without a care in the world. And for this moment at least, she was.

Four years ago, Hazel was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, one of the most common childhood cancers. She went through every round of therapy you can imagine including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and doses of drugs far larger than any small body should be forced to endure, reports CBS News' Lee Cowan. 

But five months ago, her mom Lauren posted a video on Facebook, revealing to Hazel that her scans had come back, and all of her cancer was gone.

The news explains why Hazel was in such a good mood as she played waitress for her mom Lauren and a new friend Susan Heard. Heard's son, David, was also diagnosed with neuroblastoma. She now travels the country helping to get funding for childhood cancer research. Her bond with Lauren was almost instant. 

Lauren Hammersley, Susan Heard and Hazel Hammersley CBS News

"I think we can look in each other's eyes and see the same pain, and the same hurt and the same disbelief, but we can also see the same joy and the same hope that we have that things are getting better," Lauren said.
"What you go through as a parent with a child who has cancer is traumatic on a number of different levels," Susan said. "It's not easy to get through it. So when you meet another family there's kind of this immediate, yeah, you get me."

David Heard CBS News

When David's neuroblastoma hit back in 2008, the survival rate was only about one in three. The odds weren't in his favor. In 2011, at the age of 10, he lost his battle.

"When he was dying, his list of things to do in his absence were to … continue to advance opportunities for research," Susan said.
At least one of the drugs David used in clinical trials was later approved by the FDA – just in time to help Hazel get through some of her toughest moments. 

But more fighting lies ahead for Hazel. In October, they found out her cancer had returned for the third time. She's now on a new drug in clinical trials that doctors say is showing promise.

"The longer we can keep a child like Hazel here, the research is happening behind the scenes, there are new things coming out all the time, there's so much exciting work being done, and so many advances, but it has to be here soon enough to help Hazel," Lauren said. 

Hazel is also helping other kids in their fight against cancer. She and her family raise money with the St. Baldrick's Foundation, the top private funder of childhood cancer research grants in the U.S., which has donated more than $232 million in the last 12 years.
Two families, one disease. United in the same fight.

Lauren Hammersley and Susan Heard.  CBS News

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