Hunting for a cure for pediatric cancer

Jill and Ryan Doyle with their children (from left) Marissa, 11, Jack, 7, and Hunter, 3. The family founded cureHUNTER to help raise money for pediatric cancer research. Photo by Susan Urmy.

At 6 months old, Hunter Doyle was a roly-poly baby. His mother, Jill, and his older brother joked with the pediatrician at a routine well-baby visit about “Bob”—their nickname for Hunter’s “big old belly.”

The pediatrician, John Scott, M.D., suggested doing an ultrasound.

“We were not concerned at all,” Jill recalls. “We wanted to know for sure that it was just a big belly, and we went for the ultrasound the next morning.”

By the next afternoon, the Doyles’ world turned upside down.

The ultrasound revealed a tumor in Hunter’s adrenal gland, and he was admitted to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt that evening.

A week’s worth of tests showed that Hunter had neuroblastoma, a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells.

Because of the characteristics of the tumor and Hunter’s age, the Doyles were advised to watch it—to monitor the tumor with regular scans and tests.

Hunter, who turned 3 in March, still has the tumor, which is fortunately shrinking. He didn’t need surgery or chemotherapy treatments and has never had any symptoms.

“No one even knows that he has this tumor unless we talk about it, and it’s not something that comes up,” Jill says.

The diagnosis and the hospital stay, however, shook the Doyles. They saw other very sick children and families, without the kind of support they had, Jill says. And then Jill’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Within a few months, I had a child and my mom both with cancer, and prior to that I had no experience with cancer in my family—it was something distant from me. I had to do something positive.”

Jill’s husband, Ryan Doyle, suggested they start a nonprofit to raise money for pediatric cancer research, and in January 2012 they founded cureHUNTER. Their son’s name fit perfectly with the goal of “hunting for a cure today, giving families hope for more tomorrows.”

Jill’s mother passed away in March 2012 and money given at her funeral was the first donation to cureHUNTER.

“My mom encouraged us to start cureHUNTER, and she was so proud of us for doing it,” Jill says. “There’s so much heart behind this organization.”

The care that Hunter received at Children’s Hospital and the strength of its pediatric cancer research program moved the Doyles and other cureHUNTER board members to fund an endowment at Vanderbilt. They have made a five-year commitment to raise $100,000, which is designated for neuroblastoma research.

They have raised money through evening events, and they plan to have a family-friendly event soon, Jill says.

“cureHUNTER has been so good for our entire family,” she says. The Doyles have two other children, Marissa, 11, and Jack, 7. They all pitch in and help as they can with the events.

“It’s rewarding to see my kids unite and take away from this a positive experience,” Jill says. “For me personally, it’s touching to have perfect strangers share their stories with me at the events, after I’ve shared my story. People need an outlet when it comes to fighting and dealing with cancer. If we can inspire others to find a positive in a negative situation, what a sense of personal reward that is!

“cureHUNTER is not about our son; he is perfectly fine,” Jill adds. “It’s about increasing the funds available for research with the hope of finding cures and ending the emotional, physical and mental devastation of childhood cancer.”

– by Leigh MacMillan