Everyone, in one way or another, has been affected by cancer.
It touches ordinary people, professional athletes and each person in between.
The University of Kansas Health System is a local leader in the effort to eradicate the disease, and as of Monday, that fight is receiving national reinforcements.
The Kansas City Chiefs, in partnership with the V Foundation and The University of Kansas Health System, announced a first-of-its-kind collaboration on Monday Night Football that’s dedicated to defeating cancer.
The V Foundation is matching a $100,000 contribution from the Chiefs, the Hunt Family Foundation and The University of Kansas Health System as part of the national charity’s first ever work in the NFL.
The result will be a $200,000 grant to the KU Cancer Center that is entirely devoted to cancer research.
“We take it as a personal responsibility to be an active participant in this community,” said Chiefs President Mark Donovan. “We have this great resource here with the Health System and here’s a way that we can support it, create awareness for it and actually find a way to financially support the research going on at the Center.”
The contribution, called a “junior investigator grant,” will go directly to Mary Markiewicz, Ph. D., at the KU Cancer Center. Markiewicz is working to increase the effectiveness of the body’s own immune cells, or “Natural Killer Cells,” in fighting cancer cells.
“I applaud the efforts of the V Foundation and the Kansas City Chiefs to advance The University of Kansas Cancer Center’s efforts to fight this terrible disease,” said Dr. Roy Jensen, the Director of The University of Kansas Cancer Center. “We are deeply grateful for these funds.”
The V Foundation, which was founded in 1993 in honor of legendary college basketball coach Jim Valvano, is one of the preeminent cancer research charities in the country. Since its creation, the Foundation has funded more than $170 million in cancer research grants nationwide.
“We raise money and spend it wisely with the goal of ending cancer,” said Susan Braun, the CEO of the V Foundation. “It’s not simple, but it’s what we do.”
The organization’s partnership with the Chiefs and The University of Kansas Health System began as a league-wide inquiry from ESPN, one of the V Foundation’s principal founders.
“The NFL came together in a consolidating effort on what different teams were doing regarding cancer awareness and fundraising programs,” Braun said. “We talked to our colleagues at ESPN and they encouraged us to reach out to the Chiefs and talk about what kind of program we might be able to work on together.”
Those conversations came to fruition with a partnership unlike any other in professional football.
“This is our way to make sure we do it right,” said Kevin Martinez, ESPN’s Vice President of Corporate Citizenship. “There are a lot of eyes on us, and there are local relationships that we don’t want to in any way hinder - we want to enhance. We want to show that everybody can work together in finding a cure for cancer, and the Chiefs are the first organization that we have reached out to and ran it all the way through to activation.”
The decision to get involved was a simple one for the Chiefs, who have shared a partnership with The University of Kansas Health System since 2012.
“We want to be partners with people who support our community,” Donovan said. “This one goes full circle, as we have a big partner in ESPN, who created an opportunity for all of the clubs to get involved with the V Foundation. For us, we’ve done so much with The University of Kansas Health System already, and we’re always looking for ways to elevate the great work that they’re doing at the Cancer Center.”
The V Foundation’s “junior investigator grant” program is designed to equip the best and the brightest in the world of cancer research with the funds they need to make a difference.
The Cancer Center met that standard.
“It’s one of the outstanding cancer research centers in the country,” Braun said. “We are just so impressed with the research they are doing, as well as the excellent patient care that they offer.”
ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew had a chance to experience the work the Cancer Center is doing firsthand on Saturday, as play-by-play analyst Sean McDonough, analyst Jon Gruden and sideline reporter Lisa Salters visited with patients at the facility.
Footage of the visit aired on Monday Night Football in conjunction with the announcement.
“There’s a common humanity that people have and that is to empathetically understand,” Martinez said. “We want to show on national television what Kansas City is doing with all of us that are trying to find cures for cancer, and the best way to do that is to show it in person.”
The partnership represents a powerful initiative that has the potential to not only benefit cancer research now, but to save lives down the road.
“We’re sitting here today talking about a program that’s actually going to be implemented, money is going to be donated and that work is going to hopefully impact somebody in our region and beyond,” Donovan said. “We have really cool jobs, we get to work for the Chiefs, but it’s days like this that you have perspective on just what kind of good you can do when you work together.”
ESPN's Monday Night Football hosts, along with Chiefs Staff, visit with oncology patients at The University of Kansas Health System.