San Diego charity teams up with university on run to help families battling cancer

By Melissa Mikulak

There is nothing like the love between a parent and child – and no greater sorrow than losing your child to a terrible disease.

My son, Max, was just 3 years old when his health had suddenly declined. Three days after he was admitted to Rady Children’s Hospital, a pediatric oncologist delivered the worst news we could ever imagine: Max had stage 4 neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer.

Max died on Aug. 31, 2008 – two months after he turned 7 and only six days after starting second grade. The cancer overwhelmed his little body, which was already tired from years of aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Every year, 13,500 children nationwide are diagnosed with childhood cancers; like Max, 1,500 lose their battle. Childhood cancers are the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15 in the United States, killing more children than AIDS, asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and congenital anomalies combined. Despite the overwhelming numbers, just 4 percent of the U.S. federal funding goes to childhood cancer research. The bio-pharmaceutical industry’s investment on research and development for childhood cancers is virtually nonexistent.

The experience of watching your child die before your eyes is beyond description, made worse by the fact that so little funding is directed to research. With aching hearts, a commitment to help other families waging similar battles and our own desire to honor our son by “living life to the Max,” we created Max’s Ring of Fire to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer research.

To date, we have helped fund the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium, a new research and clinical trials consortium that developed the world’s first FDA-approved personalized medicine trial for pediatric cancer. This trial is available at Rady Children’s Hospital and 13 other hospitals. Through our support of the consortium, we help to bring forward new, lower-toxicity treatments to children with high-risk cancers. For those facing the same odds as Max, this work is critically important.

Now, we are joining together with Grand Canyon University for San Diego’s inaugural Run to Fight Children’s Cancer, a 5k run/walk and one-mile family fun run to raise money for new research and treatments. The race, scheduled for Oct. 26 at NTC Park at Liberty Station, was founded in Phoenix two years ago and has raised nearly $200,000 to help young cancer patients and families in need.

I hope you will join me and many other families for this important event.

Although Max is apart from us, his spirit is ever-present. Our family, joined by an amazing group of volunteers across San Diego County, continues to work tireless to help kids fighting for their lives. On Oct. 26, we will walk and run alongside other local families and courageous children donning gold capes that signify their fight against this awful disease. With each step we take, we know we’ll be making a positive difference. — Melissa Mikulak is co-founder of San Diego-based Max’s Ring of Fire. The Run to Fight Children’s Cancer will take place at NTC Park at Liberty Station to benefit families in and around Southern California. For details, visit