2005 NEWS

2005 News > 9/6/05

MOM SPOTLIGHTS CHILDHOOD CANCER

By Virginia Anderson, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Chris Glavine has enough good looks and good fortune to incite the envy of a stone-cold heiress.

She's the mother of four children, and her husband, New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, not only makes millions as one of Major League Baseball's most respected players, but he grocery shops and runs car pool when he's not on a mound.

So just why has Chris Glavine, sheltered in such happiness, taken up the issue of childhood cancer, organizing a major fund-raiser and tribute to parents of children with cancer this Saturday?

Because she says she looked into the faces of children with cancer and she could not turn away.

"It doesn't take a lot of sick kids before you stop and say, 'That's enough of that,' " said Glavine, 38, whose fund-raiser will highlight Lance Armstrong's mom and Liz Scott, mother of Alex, an 8-year-old Philadelphia girl who raised millions for pediatric cancer research with an online lemonade stand (www.alexslemonade.com). Alex died in 2004.

"You think," she said, "what in the heck would you do if it was your kid, and you hadn't done anything?"

Even so, high-end catering menus, silent auctions and appealing to the very rich are not a natural comfort zone for Chris, who has been married for seven years to Tom.

Strong work ethic

A spunky woman who was briefly a single parent before she married a millionaire, Chris is the daughter of a retired Marine mechanic. She grew up in Rhode Island before moving to Ormond Beach, Fla., when she was 12. She went to junior college at Daytona Beach before going to work for a small, growing company called Home Depot.

Before she knew it, she was helping the company open stores in South Florida in the late '80s. Her company was doing great, but the employer of a young pitcher she met wasn't doing so well. She liked Tom Glavine a lot even if he wasn't a very good dancer but their careers kept them going in different directions.

Later, they married other people. But in the late '90s, they reconnected in Atlanta, both single parents of toddlers and after Glavine had won a Cy Young Award and his once bad team, the Braves, had captured a World Series title.

Chris was proud that she was self-sufficient the day she and son Jonathan walked into her then-rich friend's home at Country Club of the South in 1997. Tom Glavine was holding his daughter Amber when he greeted Chris and Jonathan at his door.

Tom admired her work ethic and determination, the same qualities that sportswriters have noted for years in the two-time Cy Young-winning pitcher. They were married in 1998 and have two sons together, Peyton, 6, and Mason, 4.

Chris precisely schedules family trips those to New York and those to the children's four different schools to maximize time together. She doesn't have a nanny.

"You only get one shot at this," Glavine said. "I don't want to miss a minute of it."

Dedicated to cause

And so, when a schoolmate of Jonathan's was diagnosed with cancer, the Glavines were among the first to show up with a homemade meal.

The schoolmate, Will Hennessy, is doing fine today, but his struggle with the disease broke Chris' heart, Tom said.

"I was on the road a lot, but she was right here with the moms at school, seeing it every day, and it just tore her up," Glavine said. "It was that personal connection."

Those who treat children with cancer or work on their behalf said that childhood cancer often has a life-changing effect on people.

The bravery of children too young to even understand the illness they face often stirs a passion in people that sometimes they cannot explain. And often, the pain is never forgotten by outsiders, as they try to help families who must live with losing a child or watch them suffer.

In the Glavines' case, their commitment is unusual because they did not have to linger in this world, but decided to anyway.

"Chris Glavine doesn't have to do any of this," said Kristin Connor, a Norcross lawyer who raises money for CureSearch, the fund-raising arm of the National Childhood Cancer Foundation.

"She's got a busy life and children of her own. And yet she's taken this cause on with a dedication that you just don't normally see. She's worked hours and hours and hours on this. To see both of them care so much not just because it's a good cause but because they care so much is just overwhelming. "

Her efforts are needed, some doctors say.

While many illnesses struggle with a shortage of funds for research, childhood cancer is particularly shortchanged. About 12,000 children get cancer each year.

And the harsh reality is that small numbers like that don't make it financially worthwhile for drug companies to invest millions, sometimes billions, in dollars for research and development for cures.

A report issued by the Institute of Medicine in May 2005 cited the shortage of funding for pediatric cancer drugs as an area of concern. The institute's report called for new public-private fund-raising partnerships and reducing the delay in getting pediatric cancer drugs to clinical trials.

"On a market share standpoint, these problems are dwarfed by the common adult illnesses," said Dr. Alan Wayne, the clinical director of the pediatric oncology branch at the National Cancer Institute.

Yet, pediatric cancer researchers have shown they can get results when they have the money.

Leukemia, once a virtual death sentence, may be cancer's most compelling success story. It has become a disease with close to an 80 percent survival rate in part because of focused efforts by children's hospitals across the country and an infusion of money.

Connor, whose son Brandon had been diagnosed with a rare cancer when he was born in 2001, began to raise awareness of the need for more funding for childhood cancer after Brandon's cancer mysteriously disappeared the night before surgery in November 2003. He was 2 at the time.

Connor was also friends with Will Hennessy's parents, Jane and Phil, who had shared how the Glavines had stepped in with support for their family during Will's illness.

Chris Glavine insisted that she book and pick up the tab for the family's frequent flights to Houston for Will to be treated at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

"Jane and I, having worked all our lives, aren't accustomed to letting someone else do something like that," Phil Hennessy said. "But she was very insistent. She became our personal travel agent. She still is."

Connor wondered whether the Glavines might be willing to help her raise awareness.

Glavine went to Major League Baseball in summer 2004 and received a commitment for a yearly fund-raiser for childhood cancer research. MLB has raised about $2 million for childhood cancer research.

"Because of my job, I've been able to get a few things done that other people might not have been able to," he said.

He credits his wife for taking the family's commitment further.

"She was seeing firsthand what these moms were going through, and she was just putting herself right there," he said.

"When she sees somebody going through a hard time, she realizes how blessed we are, and she just wants to put her hand on it and make it better. Sometimes I feel bad for her because no matter what she does, she wants to do more."

Chris Glavine's luncheon and silent auction Saturday will be the first of many, she said.

And Tom Glavine is proud of, but not surprised by, his wife's dedication to childhood cancer.

"She's the kind of person when you're watching TV and I look over, and I see her crying.

"She feels everybody's pain. She always kids me about not being able to say no, but she's got the heart of gold."