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Sister, Supporter and Researcher

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“As a sibling of a cancer patient, it’s been really rewarding to be able to continue to help my sister touch people’s lives even after she’s gone,” says Mallory, who was a senior in high school when her sister, Kelly, died from osteosarcoma. Mallory dedicated her basketball season to fundraising for ALSF—and raised $40,000. She went on to college and continued fundraising through her athletics.

By: Erin Weller

“I somewhat accidentally ended up raising almost $40,000,”  Mallory humbly admits as she reflects back on her senior year of high school. “My community was definitely grieving the loss of my sister, and we had built up a large community over the two years that she was undergoing treatment,” she explains.

Mallory was just starting her senior year of high school when she lost her sister, Kelly, to osteosarcoma. Mallory knew she wanted to honor her sister’s memory and decided to put her athletic skills to the test with a basketball fundraiser for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF). Through the ALSF Champions program, Mallory got people to pledge donations for every point she scored – surpassing her goal of 300 with 372 points by the end of the season.

It wasn’t long before her local news caught wind of Mallory’s fundraiser and helped her reach new heights. She recalls, “Random people all over the country started donating too. So, it was kind of a crazy accidental thing that happened that was really awesome.”

Her fundraiser was a massive success, but Mallory didn’t stop there. With college on the horizon, she found new ways to honor her sister’s memory. 

As a freshman at University of Chicago, Mallory decided to see if her new team was up to keep fundraising. “I was like, hey, I have this really unique idea. I know that none of you know me, but this is my idea, and my team jumped on board immediately.” 

During her four years at University of Chicago, Mallory’s basketball team would hold annual charity games to support kids with cancer. The pandemic cost them a year, but Mallory’s team kept their momentum by signing up for two 5Ks during ALSF’s virtual run series. By her senior year, Mallory raised another $14,500 with 412 free throws!

She explains, “Every time I would shoot a free throw, every time someone on the team would shoot a free throw, I would be reminded of what we were doing – how we were also playing for a bigger cause. I would remember my sister in all those moments.” 

Supporter Turned Oncology Researcher

What Mallory didn’t know all those years ago with her first fundraiser, was how the research she was funding would come back to benefit her, too. During her time at University of Chicago, she was presented with an opportunity to perform her own research with a pediatric oncology student training (POST) grant funded by ALSF.

“The POST grant was really one of the coolest experiences that I’ve ever had in my lifetime,” Mallory says. Although she was reluctant to enter the research field, she felt she owed it to Kelly to try. “I learned more about those things (biology, cancer biology, and Ewing sarcoma) that summer than I have learned in 20 years of school.”

Alongside her mentor Dr. Patrick Grohar, the lab focused on desmoplastic small round cell tumor (DSRCT) – a rare, aggressive malignancy with a poor prognosis, most commonly diagnosed in adolescents and young males. 

Research seemed to be a great fit for Mallory as she began conducting more in her school’s neuroblastoma lab for the next two years. Today, Mallory is a recent college graduate, looking forward to her next adventure – a year in Germany. With Dr. Grohar’s help, Mallory got in touch with an Ewing sarcoma lab there where she is eager to begin conducting research in September.

“It’s really important to raise money, being on the research side of cancer. You see how expensive every experiment is and how long it takes to develop new treatments – let alone get it to the clinical trial phase. Even a little bit of money goes a really long way,” she says. 

Now, Mallory views the topic of childhood cancer from two perspectives: the sister and the researcher. “As a sibling of a cancer patient, it’s been really rewarding to be able to continue to help my sister touch people’s lives even after she’s gone,” she says.

With her sister’s memory forever in her heart, Mallory plans to continue using her past experiences and present knowledge to help create a brighter future for all kids with cancer.