The fight against pediatric cancer is an uphill and unfair fight. Libby Kranz, Chairperson of the Board at Unravel Pediatric Cancer in Gilroy, was hit by that fact like a lightning bolt when her oldest daughter Jennifer was diagnosed in 2013 with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, an aggressive form cancer that attacks the brain. Three months later, Jennifer died, but, the battle continues as Kranz works to even the odds.
“I got mad and I have a big mouth,” Kranz said. “Everyone knows an adult who has had cancer, but not everyone knows a child who has cancer. We asked, ‘why should we do it this way when it doesn’t seem to work.'”
Kranz was new to the world of fundraising when she founded Unravel Pediatric Cancer. She learned quickly. She knew what she wanted to accomplish, but she was also well aware of what she didn’t want to do. She was frustrated by the scarcity of funds that go to fighting pediatric cancer.
“There isn’t enough funding to fight pediatric cancer,” Kranz said. “The government only gives four percent of its cancer funding for pediatric cancer and the American Cancer Society only gives $.01 of every donated dollar to pediatric cancer. You can’t even say where you want your money to go.”
Unravel’s form of fundraising is unconventional. Rather than search for grants, a process that takes hundreds of hours, Unravel devotes itself to grassroots fundraising, hosting events like its annual golf tournament at Eagle Ridge Golf Course, an event that raised over $60,000 in three years.
“We bring together people and communities who want to fight pediatric cancer and we give them the tools and support to do that,” Kranz said. “We encourage grassroots efforts, like, penny drives that get kids involved.”
Unravel’s logo, a drawing of a ribbon being pulled apart by one end of the string is a metaphor for unraveling the causes of pediatric cancer. It was not a metaphor for how Kranz handled the pain of losing a child. Immediately after Jennifer’s diagnosis, Kranz took to the internet, blogging about her experience as a mother confronted with a parent’s worst nightmare.
“The response was huge and there was an outpouring of support,” Kranz said. “We hoped to have enough time to get her into a clinical trial. Nothing has changed with that type of cancer. When Jennifer died, we donated her tumors. She was one of the few who had a successful donation. Her cell line, her DNA is still there at Stanford. She’s still fighting to this day. “
Kranz and Unravel Pediatric Cancer have built a longstanding relationship with Dr. Michelle Monje, a researcher at Stanford. A recent donation of $20,000 raised from their golf tournament by Unravel to Dr. Monje yielded promising results. The contribution came with no strings attached since Unravel allows researchers free reign over the funds they receive.
“What makes us different is what we fund and how we fund it,” Kranz said. We fund innovative things. We support new ideas. We find new researchers who have new ways to fight cancer. We have unrestrictive funding and if we want to fund something specific, we don’t tie the researcher’s hands. If they have good enough research, we just give them the money and they communicate with us. If it doesn’t work, they are not handcuffed by us.”