Project Violet Family Appreciation Night draws 100 to Fred Hutch campus

Families of brain cancer patients reunite for Project Violet Family Appreciation Night at Fred Hutch

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Karen Heric hugs jim olson
Jess and Jeramie O'Dell
Sammy Loch
Christy Bergen
Jim Olson jokes with Keaton Wrenn
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‘Brendan’s life had purpose’

Dr. Jim Olson, a Fred Hutch pediatric brain cancer expert, hugs Karen Heric, the mother of one of his former patients, at Project Violet Family Appreciation Night Sept. 9 on the rooftop of the Robert M. Arnold Building on the Fred Hutch campus. The event drew about 100 of Olson’s former patients and family members.

Heric lost her 2 ½-year-old son, Brendan, to brain cancer 22 years ago. She attends the annual family night gatherings to celebrate his memory and Olson’s research. “It helps knowing that Brendan’s life had purpose,” she said. 

Project Violet and related fundraising events have raised about $5 million since the “citizen scientist” program began in June 2013, allowing ordinary people to support groundbreaking work, including an “optides” drug discovery effort. Optides, short for “optimized peptides,” represent a new class of anti-cancer compounds that are engineered to attack cancer cells without harming the cells around them. 

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Violet’s parents: ‘It’s lovely to see the science’

Jess and Jeramie O’Dell lost their 11-year-old daughter, Violet, to a rare brainstem tumor in October 2012. Violet asked that her brain be donated to science so that doctors could study her cancer and use it to create new treatments for other children. “She was a character, she was sweet,” Jess O’Dell said of her red-haired daughter. The O’Dells, who have two other daughters, Makenna, 13, and Paige, 15, said they come to the family night events to connect with others – and to celebrate the pace of progress in the fight against the disease that cut short Violet’s life. “It’s lovely to see the science,” Jess O’Dell said. “We never expected it would move so fast.”

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

‘I’ve been cancer-free for five years’

Sammy Loch was 15 when she was diagnosed with a rare medulloblastoma brain tumor in 2009. She battled through the cancer and a bout of flesh-eating necrotizing fasciitis, a dangerous infection. Still, she graduated with her classmates at Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek. Today, Loch, 20, is attending Western Washington University, where she’s studying to be a child-life specialist, an expert who can help kids cope with cancer treatment.  How is she doing? “I’ve been cancer-free for five years,” she said, beaming. 

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

‘There aren’t words to describe that connection’

It’s been almost two years since Christy and Russ Bergen lost their 8-year-old daughter, Kaylie, to brain cancer. The Federal Way family, which includes brother Dylan, 7, came to the Family Appreciation Night event to be with others who know what they’ve been through. “It’s trust and empathy and everything,” Christy Bergen said. “There aren’t words to describe that connection to other families.”

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

‘There’s a lot of good stuff happening’

Dr. Jim Olson jokes with Keaton Wrenn, 9. Keaton was diagnosed at 16 months with a deadly medulloblastoma brain tumor. High-dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant saved his life but left him with devastating side effects. His parents, Lisa and Chris Wrenn, and sister Lisa, 12, enjoyed dinner and a chance to hear about advances in treating pediatric brain cancers. “There’s a lot of good stuff happening,” Lisa Wrenn said. 

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service