Speaking 60 years to the day after JFK delivered his landmark speech launching a national initiative to reach the moon within a decade, President Biden doubled-down on his administration’s Cancer Moonshot pledge to “end cancer as we know it today.” Among the goals specified in the rollout of the initiative is to “speed progress against the most deadly and rare cancers, including childhood cancers.”
This was certainly welcome news for Douglas Elliman community member Sara Kallus-Svoboda, whose four-year-old daughter, Belle, is fighting a rare form of cancer. But like so many parents of pediatric cancer patients, she knows it will take more than a moonshot to boost the historically small percentage of annual funding that goes to researching and treating childhood cancers.
According to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, “only 4% of the billions of dollars the government spends annually is directed towards treating childhood cancer.” That means fewer resources for clinical trials or much-needed updates to decades-old treatments.
To help make up for that shortfall, Kallus-Svoboda—who is Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Douglas Elliman Development Marketing—has launched a crowdfunding campaign in support of Kids Walk for MSK Kids at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Kallus-Svoboda understands this relative disparity in funding is often attributed to the fact that many pediatric cancers are extremely rare. The tumor discovered in Belle’s left calf back in December 2021 turned out to be Stage 3 Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma.
“Only 100 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year,” she said. “The rarer and smaller the subset, the less research or funding get directed toward it.”
That is why fundraising campaigns like Kids Walk for MSK Kids are so critical, she added. “What’s amazing is that 100% of what we raise goes directly to doctors and researchers at MSK Kids who are working hard to prevent, treat, and cure childhood cancers,” Kallus-Svoboda said. “Their work has led to FDA approval of new drugs and other breakthroughs that benefit young people worldwide.”
Belle and the Fighting 5
In the months after she and her husband received Belle’s diagnosis, Kallus-Svoboda found a vital source of comfort in the community of fellow parents and their brave children. But she was initially hesitant to be public about her family’s plight.
“I’m just not one to ask for help—that’s never been my comfort zone,” she said. “But when I finally let people know, it was such a huge relief. The response from everyone made us feel like we were being hugged. It’s been a real lesson—when you need help, you have to let people in and accept it.”
That support and comfort helped Kallus-Svoboda find the courage to organize the Kids Walk for MSK Kids fundraiser on behalf of her daughter and four other kids, now dubbed the Fighting 5. But no one has emboldened her more than Belle herself.
“This girl—she just touches every soul she meets,” she said. “Everyone who meets her is, like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this little girl is gonna do great things!’ She’s even sending voice memos to other people with cancer, saying, ‘You can do it! I’m here for you! We will beat this cancer!’ It’s just been mind-blowing.”