For the 15th year, The Blast builds on a promise, fights for a cure
Every dollar raised at The Blast will bring more research, clinical trials and treatments closer to home for patients and families at the Cook Children’s Hematology and Oncology Center.
• The 15th annual The Blast will take place on April 2, 2022 at Panther Island Pavilion in Fort Worth. Visit blastwalk.org to sign up.
• Michael and Elesha were patients at Cook Children's, fighting neuroblastoma. Learn how a promise between friends spurred The Blast event.
• Families and friends of kids like Elesha and Michael walk every year to find a cure. You don’t have to know someone who has been affected by childhood cancer to get involved.
• The Blast is a way to stand with these families in their grief, and hope for a brighter future. You can support patients through every stage of their journey by signing up to walk, asking for donations and sharing their stories.
By Tara Barton
Fifteen years ago, two young friends made a promise. As 4-year-old Michael Mancuso battled neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancer that occurs in infants and young children, his friend Alexa Sankary supported and encouraged him. Just before he passed away in September 2007, Alexa promised she would help find a cure for other children still suffering from this terrible disease.
Alexa kept her promise by starting The Blast, a walk to find a cure for neuroblastoma. In the 15 years since that promise, The Blast has grown to support children battling all forms of cancer at the Cook Children’s Hematology and Oncology Center.
During the time Michael spent at Cook Children’s, another patient battled neuroblastoma alongside him. Elesha Debenport was diagnosed a month before her third birthday.
Elesha lost her battle with cancer on June 22, 2007, just three months before her friend Michael passed away. She was 5 years old. When The Blast was held for the first time just a few months later, Elesha's mother, Karen Debenport, and her family were there to help find a cure for other families fighting neuroblastoma. Every year since Karen has been involved in The Blast as a committee member.
“Elesha would have been 20 on Feb. 6, 2022, if she had survived. This memorial of her life, her birthday, has helped me galvanize why I remain involved in The Blast,” Karen said. “I want to be a voice for families affected by childhood cancer. This event uncovers the very obscure lives of children with cancer and their families, and it’s an opportunity to stand with them in their suffering, sorrow, loss and in the overcoming.”
Michael and Elesha met on the hematology and oncology floor, and would often send things back and forth to each other to show love. Karen remembers her daughter as a vibrant little girl who showed love to everyone she met.
“She loved to read, talk and have conversations,” Karen said. “The nurses were in awe of her verbal skills. Elesha was a very sweet child, and she loved her family. She was always thinking about what she could make for her siblings, and what she wanted to share with them.”
Meaghan Granger, M.D., a pediatric hematologist/oncologist, walked in the first year of The Blast, too. Dr. Granger leads the neuroblastoma team at Cook Children’s and personally treated both Michael and Elesha.
“It is a privilege to have known Michael and Elesha and cared for them and their families,” Dr. Granger said. “When they were diagnosed with neuroblastoma, those kids fought extremely hard against a terrible disease. Families with neuroblastoma spend a lot of time at the hospital and get to know other patients. Around the time that Michael and Elesha were in treatment, we had several other neuroblastoma patients who bonded together and formed a small ‘army’ to fight together. They were such an inspiration.”
In the U.S., more children are lost to cancer than any other disease. In fact, about one in 264 children will have cancer before the age of 20.
“When you’re looking from the outside, you think ‘oh, that’s awful,’ and then move on,” Karen said. “On the back of the tribute signs [at The Blast], there are phrases like ‘It could be your child,’ or ‘It could be your friend’s child.’ I hope that The Blast is an opportunity to face the truth that children get cancer.”
When a child is battling cancer, their family suffers as well. Parents often must spend days and weeks away from work and other children as they support their child through inpatient stays. Siblings face long-term emotional struggles as they learn to cope with feelings of loss and loneliness.
“My participation in The Blast announces to these children that they are not alone, and shows their siblings that our community cares about them,” Karen said. “I want them to have a future free from the harming effects of chemotherapy and the emotionally devastating effects of family separation that occur during treatment.”
Thanks to improved treatments, more children survive pediatric cancer than ever before. Many survivors will, however, face significant health-related issues later in life, caused by side effects of either cancer or, more commonly, the result of its treatment.
“Thanks to Michael and Elesha’s fight and the ongoing support of their families, we have seen miracles happen for those who are being treated today,” Dr. Granger said. “Not all of our patients are cured, and so we continue to fight and pursue new therapies and strategies on how to combat this disease until we see a cure for each and every child.”
The Blast 2022
The 15th annual The Blast will take place on April 2, 2022 at Panther Island Pavilion in Fort Worth. Every dollar raised will bring more research, clinical trials and treatments closer to home for patients and families at the Cook Children’s Hematology and Oncology Center.
Families and friends of kids like Elesha and Michael walk every year to find a cure. You don’t have to know someone who has been affected by childhood cancer to get involved; The Blast is a way to stand with these families in their grief, and hope for a brighter future. You can support patients through every stage of their journey by signing up to walk, asking for donations and sharing their stories.
“This is our community. These are our children, and we need to provide treatments for them that aren’t as harsh,” Karen said. “The Blast is an opportunity to come together as a community and remember, celebrate and look forward to better, less toxic treatments. It’s an opportunity to hope for better days to come.”