Kristin Connor didn’t know an unborn child could get cancer. The successful business litigator was thirty-three weeks pregnant in 2001 when an ultrasound revealed a mass on her son’s tiny spine. Brandon was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at one month old. At age two, he was set to undergo a complex surgery to remove the tumor. But the day before the operation, a last-minute MRI showed nothing short of a miracle: The tumor had simply disappeared.
Now the executive director of Atlanta nonprofit CURE Childhood Cancer, Connor still has no explanation for her family’s happy ending. (Brandon is now fourteen and thriving.) But it was other families’ stories she couldn’t shake—like a friend whose child suffered thirty rounds of chemo and a leg amputation, only for the cancer to return weeks later. “I thought, ‘This is madness. We have to stop this madness.’”
She started pressing the American Cancer Society for more funding for pediatric cancers (the vast majority of national cancer research dollars go to adult forms). A mutual friend arranged a meeting with Tom Glavine’s wife, Chris; the Hall of Fame pitcher tapped Major League Baseball to raise $2 million for the cause. That feat earned Connor a job with CureSearch, a national childhood cancer nonprofit. A year and a half later, Atlanta’s CURE contacted her about its top post.
In her decade-long tenure, Connor, forty-seven, has furthered CURE’s mission of offering financial assistance, counseling, meals, and other support to affected families. But she has also built a research juggernaut. With the help of her board of directors, she has increased CURE’s annual investment from $200,000 to $2.5 million to recipients such as the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center at Vanderbilt University. Advances in these laboratories could lead to a 100 percent cure rate for childhood cancers in as soon as twenty years, Connor says. And that would let all families have their happy ending.