Recognizing National Brain Tumor Awareness Month: Honoring C.J. Buckley

May is a special month for us here at the Joe Andruzzi Foundation – National Brain Tumor Awareness Month. As many of you know, we at JAF, we have a deep connection and commitment to raising awareness for the need to significantly increase research behind cures for pediatric brain tumors. One incredibly special young man set us on this course many years ago, during my visits to Children’s Hospital Boston when I was playing for the Patriots. .

Jen and I met C.J. Buckley only a month after he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and we were immediately impressed by his spirit and courage. He was simply an extraordinary young man. He and his family became part of our extended family, and when he passed away in 2002 at the age 17, he truly left a hole in our hearts.

We wanted to do something, to take action. And to show our continued love and support for C.J.’s family. We started the C.J. Buckley Cancer Research Fund at Children’s in 2003. Now a part of the Foundation, this Fund supports the groundbreaking work of Dr. Mark Kieran, and it is our way of working towards a time when no child suffers from brain cancer. Long before I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, C.J.’s experience drew us into the world of cancer research and treatment, motivating us to get involved.

We were proud to join his parents in their search for answers. To-date, our Foundation has contributed more than $300,000 to Dr. Kieran’s research, which centers on the molecular nature of pediatric brain tumors, novel therapies and surgical alternatives. His research is focused on children, but he also aims to make more effective treatment accessible to all patients.

Brain tumors are devastating for both children and adults:

They are the leading cause of death from solid tumors in children under the age of 20, and are the third leading cause of death from cancer in young adults aged 20 to 39, according to the National Brain Tumor Society.

More than 600,000 people in the U.S. are currently living with a brain tumor diagnosis, and more than 60,000 will be diagnosed this year. Because brain tumors live in our body’s “control center” for thought, emotion and movement, they can wreak havoc on our physical and cognitive abilities.

They are a deadly form of cancer for all age groups. Only about 35 percent of patients survive a primary malignant brain/central nervous system diagnosis; the five-year survival rate for glioblastoma, the most common and deadly brain tumor, is only about 4 percent.

Unfortunately, there are other factors that make brain tumors particularly challenging for doctors and patients. They can be difficult to detect and have few known risk factors. Symptoms are often attributed to other conditions, leading to delays in diagnosis. There are no strategies for early detection and there are 120 different tumor types. Treatment can be complex and can damage other parts of the brain, even when successfully obliterating the tumor. These lasting side effects can be financially, physically and emotionally devastating for patients, who find it difficult to work after treatment.

These patients, and their families, need our help and support.

So what can we do – as a community that cares about cancer and each other – during May to aid in the fight against brain tumors? The National Brain Tumor Society has a few suggestions.

You can participate in the family-friendly Boston Brain Tumor Ride on May 20, joining hundreds of other advocates to raise awareness and funds for research, public policy promotion and patient information.

If you’re up for a trip to Washington, D.C., you can participate in the National Brain Tumor Society’s Head to the Hill event on May 7 and 8, to advocate for brain tumor research and resources with members of Congress.

You can write to your Congressman or Senator to support biomedical research funding.

And you can sign this petition asking the U.S. Postal Service to produce a brain tumor awareness stamp.

We hope you’ll join us in taking some positive action to fight brain tumors this May – in honor of our friend C.J. and all the other brave patients and families fighting this disease.

— Joe Andruzzi