Touch a Truck to help fight pediatric cancer

By Catherine Kolonko


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 ( 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.

The Mikulaks have made raising funds for research a priority in their lives because approved treatment options for the disease that took away their young son are limited since a relatively small number of children are affected by the deadly cancer. Like many parents motivated by the death of a young child, they work to bring honor and visibility to the way Max lived his life.

Max delighted in airplanes and powerful engines and was so excited, his mother said, the day local firefighters gave him a memorable ride in their firetruck. Any child who has ever played with a toy tractor will no doubt get a kick out of the giant and powerful yellow construction trucks, graders and excavator planned for this year’s benefit, Melissa Mikulak said. Last year, the kids loved exploring a big dump truck equipped with an air horn, she said.

“Kid’s see these every day, and you’re just not allowed to touch them,” Melissa said, noting that is the point of an event like Touch a Truck. “It’s not just a car show. It’s a touch show.”

A paint-my-ride display this year will allow children to dip brushes into paint that can then be slathered on to a specified car brought in just for the occasion. Fire engines, patrol cars and other emergency vehicles will be manned by local lifeguards, firefighters and police officers. Other vehicles slated for display include a big pink school bus from a surfing school, Hummers and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Also returning this year is the popular game truck, a long tractor trailer that kids can go inside to play and watch video games along a wall of giant screens. In addition to the vehicle displays, the event features live music, face painting and a cake walk.

The fundraising goal is set at $40,000, roughly four times the amount raised last year. Admission tickets are $5 per person, and children under 2 get in free.

This year, a raffle with four price tiers was added to boost the amount raised, Melissa Mikulak said. Prizes range from a high-end spa day to toys for the kids, she said.

Touch a Truck

  • 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 5
  • Torrey Pines High
  • For tickets and info, visit