Gretchen Holt Witt was confronted with one of life’s biggest challenges when her 2 year old son Liam was diagnosed in February 2007 with Neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer with no cure. She and her husband Larry were shocked to learn that the primary reason over 25% of kids diagnosed with cancer do not survive is because of a lack of effective therapies. And the reason for the lack of therapies? Lack of funding… pediatric cancer is the lowest-funded of all cancer research. In helping their own son fight for his life, Gretchen and Larry were determined to come up with a plan that could support the development of new and better treatments for pediatric cancer by giving people a simple way to get involved. Her story – their story – begins with 96,000 cookies and the will to stop at nothing to help all kids fighting cancer.
Soon after Liam’s diagnosis, Gretchen and Larry founded the national, non-profit organization Cookies for Kids’ Cancer in 2008. But, its inception was much more of a home grown idea that took off quickly and well beyond their expectations. Gretchen, a public relations professional, was determined to use her PR skills to start an awareness and fundraising campaign for pediatric cancer so she could help ease Liam’s suffering and the suffering of other kids going through the same thing. While juggling her PR job, managing Liam’s care (chemo, surgeries, tests) and keeping life as normal as possible for her family (Gretchen and Larry also have a daughter, Liam’s sister Ella), Gretchen set out to bake 96,000 cookies for a holiday, fundraising bake sale. She rented a commercial kitchen in New York City and sent out calls for volunteers. 250 people came to help, including an entire shift of firefighters from a nearby station. All 96,000 cookies were sold and the event raised over $400,000 for pediatric cancer research.
After the event was over, it quickly became clear that Gretchen had started something bigger than a one-time, monster bake sale in NYC. Requests for cookies kept coming in and the event caught the attention and hearts of the media and people from all over the country. Emails from across the United States started flooding in asking “what can we do to help?”. What began as a desperate act to raise money and awareness for her child’s own cancer, quickly exploded into something much bigger than anyone had planned. That’s when Cookies for Kids’ Cancer officially launched as a national, non-profit that has been growing ever since.
Gretchen’s passion is undeniable and her story is inspiring, so if you are suddenly wanting to help a woman and a cause you were not aware of prior to reading this, we’re not surprised. There are lots of ways to support Cookies for Kids’ Cancer… to be a Good Cookie as the organization says. Host a local bake sale (they give you the easy, step-by-step how to) or purchase cookies directly from the organization. Other supporters have run marathons, held tag sales, organized golf tournaments, collected spare change, and hosted car washes to support Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Or you can simply donate online.
Money raised through and by Cookies for Kids’ Cancer supports the work of scientists and top pediatric oncologists at leading Pediatric Cancer Centers – Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – who are investigating new and less toxic therapies and more effective treatments for children battling cancer. To date, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer has raised $2.5 million dollars for pediatric cancer research and they continue to work toward and beyond their fundraising goal of $10 million.
Gretchen, clearly a Woman You Should Know, has been recognized nationally for her leadership as a mom on a mission. In 2010, she was named one of Woman’s Day Magazine’s 50 Women Changing the World and Traditional Home Magazine’s Classic Woman of the Year. She was also featured in the December 2009 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine, for her work with Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Gretchen lectures all over the country about Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, specifically to help raise awareness of the need for funding for pediatric cancer research and to share her experiences as a mother fighting tirelessly for her son and for all children.
Tragically, Gretchen’s son Liam, whose name means “warrior” in Gaelic, came to the end of his courageous 4 year fight with cancer this year on January 24, 2011 at the age of 6 1/2. A few members of the Women You Should Know team had the great pleasure of meeting Liam a few years ago. He had just come from a treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. But, you would never know it. All we saw was an outgoing, bubbly little guy, full of happiness with a 1,000 watt smile and a larger-than-life personality to match. From all we have heard, seen and read about Liam, this is who he was all of the time, despite what he was going through and enduring. So, we are honored to have had the opportunity to know such a gutsy little boy with a boundless spirit.
Though devastated by Liam’s loss, Gretchen and Larry remain more determined than ever to continue the fight against pediatric cancer.