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The Power of Reconnection and Collaboration in the Face of Childhood Brain Cancer

By Nicole Giroux, Founder and Executive Director of the Lilabean Foundation for Pediatric Brain Cancer Research

Life can present startling coincidences. In the early 1990s, Meg Cortezi and I were high school classmates and teammates at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Baltimore, MD.  Little did we know that a friendship that started in the halls of NDP would be rekindled in the halls of Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, thirty years later. Our former mutual worries about mundane high school things suddenly transitioned into the shared terror of having a child with brain cancer. 

In 2015, when Meg’s son Ben was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, an aggressive malignant brain cancer, my family was already several years into our daughter Lila’s brain cancer journey. Lila was diagnosed in 2009 at 15 months old with inoperable low grade glioma. Several years later, my husband and I started the Lilabean Foundation for Pediatric Brain Cancer Research (LBF). Our foundation's singular mission is to fund collaborative and innovative research to discover safer and more effective treatment options for children with all types of brain cancer. Thirteen years later, I am proud to share that LBF has raised over $5 million and has funded some of the world’s top neuro-oncology institutions.

I was completely shocked to learn of Ben’s diagnosis. What are the odds that two friends from a small class of 75 women both have children with brain cancer? This disease is so often categorized as ‘rare,’ and it’s instances like these that remind us that, in reality, it is far too common. The bonds formed in high school allowed us to reconnect immediately. Ben was in the throes of toxic treatments and there was no time to be wasted. Meg was quick to realize the importance of funding research to identify treatment options for kids like Lila and Ben. It wasn’t long before she became an incredible advocate and involved her family, friends and colleagues at TEKsystems in her advocacy.

In 2019, Meg became an LBF board member. Soon thereafter, TEKsystems began partnering with LBF more frequently and intentionally. Since 2020, TEKsystems has supported  our mission and has acted compassionately towards the objectives of our foundation. TEKsystems has played an important role in raising awareness about the severity of childhood brain cancer and the dire need for private funding. For instance, most people don’t know that approximately 11 children are diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor every day in the United States. 

TEKsystems’ support is helping to educate communities on these alarming statistics. And even though brain cancer is the deadliest form of cancer in children, the pediatric brain cancer landscape is grossly underfunded. TEKsystems continues to help LBF fill the federal funding gap with private support for institutions, including the Brain Tumor Institute at Children’s National Hospital, where Lila and Ben remain patients. The relationship between TEKsystems and LBF is an excellent example of the impact that is possible when partnerships are prioritized. 

Ben and Lila are two of many LBF HEROES. Their stories inspire. Meg’s willingness to share her family’s story has paved the way for LBF to connect with other families including TEKsystems’ colleague, Tim Brown, whose daughter Abby also suffers from low grade glioma brain cancer.

At our 30 year high school reunion, Meg hosted a cocktail party for our NDP classmates to learn more about LBF. It was powerful to connect with old friends and share our stories of heartbreak and resilience.

It is surreal to think that Ben and Lila are now the same ages that Meg and I were when we first met. I am so grateful for Meg’s friendship and commitment to the Lilabean Foundation. Our partnership with TEKsystems is a testament to the power of turning suffering into hopeful action.

May is brain cancer awareness month and we hope that you will consider becoming an 11for11 member in honor of those approximately 11 children who are diagnosed with brain cancer each day. Please join us in our mission to give hope to children and families suffering from this terrible disease.

Check out the special episode of the LBF Podcast where we sit down with Nicole and Meg for a special conversations about their journey from high school friends to cancer moms and passionate advocates for pediatric brain cancer research.

Meg Cortezi (second from left) and members of the TEKsystems team at the 2023 LBF Golf Tournament.

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