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Northwestern Mutual Sponsored Series

Building a Better Tomorrow, Today

Why the Fight Against Childhood Cancer Matters and How to Support the Cause

By Mary Riddle
lemon top challenge to fund childhood cancer research

This year Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and the Northwestern Mutual Foundation are reigniting the social media campaign #LemonTopChallenge, encouraging followers and supporters to take a photo or video of someone balancing a lemon on their heads to raise money for research in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. (Image: Northwestern Mutual Foundation)

Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease for children. However, only about 4 percent of federal funding for cancer research went to childhood cancers over the past decade. While spending bills passed in 2022 provided a much-needed boost for childhood cancer research, funding is still far short of what’s needed, and private fundraising efforts remain critical. 

“Every day, more than 1,000 children worldwide are diagnosed with childhood cancer,” said Steve Radke, president of the Northwestern Mutual Foundation. “A childhood cancer diagnosis changes the lives of an entire family, not just the child undergoing treatment, forever. It’s important for these families to receive the support they need not only medically, but mentally and financially.” 

We know research has led to significant improvements in the survivability of childhood cancer. In the last three decades, mortality rates from cancer in children and teenagers fell by more than 50 percent. However, there’s still an urgent need for new advances and continued research to help identify effective treatments necessary to further reduce childhood cancer mortality and identify treatments for rare and under-researched forms of cancer.

To help fill this gap, Northwestern Mutual and its foundation have contributed more than $50 million to the cause, funded more than 600,000 hours of research, and supported hundreds of research grants since 2012. Those grants include the Young Investigators Grant designed to support early-career physicians and scientists who are pursuing promising childhood cancer research ideas.

Dr. Erica Braverman, for example, is in the second year of her Young Investigator project. She’s studying ways to improve CAR T-cell immunotherapy treatments, which essentially reprogram a patient’s own white blood cells to find, attack and eliminate cancer cells. Her research on the role of immunometabolism in pediatric cancer will advance the field by improving response to immunotherapies in pediatric cancer patients. 

“We take pride in knowing there are kids today who are cancer-free thanks to the research we have helped fund,” Radke said.

Northwestern Mutual’s support of childhood cancer research grew out of a passion for helping to alleviate some of the financial anxiety that families face when dealing with a childhood cancer diagnosis. 

“Our mission as a company is to help relieve Americans of financial anxiety and invest in the future of our community,” Radke said. “For many families … the diagnosis and treatment associated with childhood cancer is an emotional and financial burden they did not anticipate. We recognize the financial implications and are uniquely positioned to help those families with the services we offer through our field of advisors, but also through our foundation.”

The company’s employees also support local childhood cancer organizations within the communities where they live and work, from galas to golf outings to music events, “they’ve helped greatly in fundraising efforts throughout the past 12 years,” Radke said.

The Northwestern Mutual Foundation partners with charitable organizations and research centers to fund specific programs, such as the Ronald McDonald House, the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Beads of Courage and TeamConnor

In particular, the Northwestern Mutual Foundation shares a special relationship with Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a national pediatric cancer nonprofit dedicated to changing children's lives through impactful research, raising awareness and supporting families to help cure pediatric cancer. Through this partnership, Northwestern Mutual has sponsored notable and future scientific leaders by funding grants for students, early career researchers, and scientists pursuing innovative approaches to some of the greatest challenges in pediatric cancer research. 

"With the help of Northwestern Mutual, we’ve provided life-saving grants, empowered the next generation of researchers and created programs dedicated to helping families affected by childhood cancer,” said Liz Scott, Alex’s mom and co-executive director of the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation.

To further the cause, this year Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and the Northwestern Mutual Foundation are reigniting the social media campaign #LemonTopChallenge, encouraging followers and supporters to take a photo or video of someone balancing a lemon on their heads to raise money for research in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. 

For every post shared to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn in the month of September, Northwestern Mutual will make a $10 donation to the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, up to $500,000. Participants must use the hashtag #LemonTopChallenge and tag @alexslemonadestandfoundation and @northwesternmutual. 

Radke hopes the result of the foundation’s ongoing fundraising will help inspire other business leaders to find their own philanthropic callings. 

“When it comes to finding a cause that is meaningful for an organization, it’s important to think with a long-term mindset,” he said. “The most impactful results happen over time, not immediately, but it is through funding and volunteer commitments from companies and organizations where change can happen. I hope that the work we and others are doing in this space sparks others to choose to get involved. As they say, it takes a village.”

This article series is sponsored by Northwestern Mutual and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

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Mary Riddle is the director of sustainability consulting services for Obata. As a former farmer and farm educator, she is passionate about regenerative agriculture and sustainable food systems. She is currently based in Florence, Italy.

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