Touch a Truck to help fight pediatric cancer

By Catherine Kolonko

Contributor

Kids and their parents can revel in the sights, sounds and feel of a fun assortment of vehicles at a cancer fundraiser called Touch a Truck, planned in Carmel Valley next month.

It is the second annual benefit organized by the parents of Max Mikulak, a 7-year-old who died in 2008 after battling neuroblastoma, a type of pediatric cancer. Money raised for the event is earmarked for a charity established in Max's name by his parents, Andy and Melissa Mikulak, to fund neuroblastoma research at the University of Vermont Cancer Center.

The four-hour event will feature an estimated 50 different cars, motorcycles, trucks, trailers and construction tractors on display in the parking lot of Torrey Pines High School, Melissa Mikulak said. Children who attended last year loved that they could get close and touch vehicles that normally they can only admire from a distance, she said.

"Last year, we planned Touch a Truck in 28 days," she said. "It was such a fun event. ... People were so excited to share their vehicles."

"Everything was a hit. The kids were so stoked to get on motorcycles."

The Mikulaks formed a charity in their son's honor called Max's Ring of Fire, so named because Max loved the song "Ring of Fire." A video featured on a website about Max captures him smiling and dancing with his siblings and singing the version by the band Social Distortion. The ring also symbolizes an interconnected loop of people joining efforts to find a cure for neuroblastoma, according to Andy Mikulak.

Their charity helps fund the research of Dr. Giselle Sholler of the University of Vermont, who is dedicated to finding a cure for the disease, which is diagnosed in about 600 U.S. children each year, Mikulak said.

The Carmel Valley couple was introduced to Sholler through their son who was enrolled in a phase 1 clinical trial that she conducted to test the safety of the antibiotic nifurtimox that in lab testing appeared to have anti-tumor properties.

Sholler is also the founder of the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium. The group of cancer treatment centers formally organized last year to share research and clinical findings and is preparing for its first annual meeting in Florida in November.

The annual meetings are going to be open to the public and free, so parents of children with neuroblastoma can attend and listen and interact with researchers, doctors and clinical site leaders, Andy Mikulak said. The idea is to present research in the pipeline and allow input and questions from the larger community.

"It'll be real exciting in that it's a working consortium but it's also something that will be kind of a symposium that's open to anybody that would like to attend," said Andy Mikulak.

Since last year's fundraiser, Andy Mikulak has been involved in creating a new website for the consortium (www.nmtrc.org). The vision of the website is to mirror and complement the group's research approach by providing real time updates for specific trials. One goal is to give parents making treatment decisions access to details about various clinical trials without necessarily having to go through the principal investigator of any particular trial. The site also offers Information about additional related clinical trials being conducted at the consortium's eight U.S. sites, including Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego, Andy Mikulak said.

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