In 1976, after a number of her colleagues were diagnosed with cancer, Putnam City Schools teacher Lois Thomas had an idea. She gathered a group and went door to door, collecting change for cancer research.
From those humble beginnings, the district grew both its efforts and results. This year, with a check for $88,000 presented to OMRF Tuesday night, Putnam City Schools have raised $3,081,253 for cancer research.
Brandon Havens, 17-year-old senior at Putnam City West High School, said he’s driven to help with the annual cancer drive because of personal experience.
“A close family friend has breast cancer. She’s beaten it twice before, but it keeps coming back,” he said. “So many people know somebody close to them with cancer. That’s why this means so much to us.”
It also means a lot to OMRF researchers, who have relied for years on the steady stream of funding from Putnam City Schools teachers, students and parents. Their contributions, put into a charitable trust, ensure that cancer research can continue.
“This is a tremendous achievement,” said OMRF scientist and Putnam City Schools Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research, Linda Thompson, Ph.D. “It’s a real privilege to put the resources provided to work in the lab as we seek to better understand and find ways to stop cancer.”
The commitment students make each year is inspiring, said Putnam City Schools Superintendent Paul Hurst.
“It’s amazing to think that our students have raised $3 million. Their spirit and compassion can’t be overstated,” he said. “But most importantly, their work means that someday, fewer students will have to deal with cancer. Not just here, not just across the state or the country, but around the world. That’s the gift they’re giving.”
Students and faculty collect funds through a 5k run, bake sales, car washes, talent shows and other activities. Those funds have purchased a wide variety of sophisticated laboratory equipment at OMRF, including high-powered microscopes, centrifuges and incubators.
OMRF is at the forefront of cancer research nationwide. OMRF scientists Rheal Towner, Ph.D., and Robert Floyd, Ph.D., discovered a compound that, in laboratory animals, has been effective at shrinking glioblastoma—a deadly form of brain cancer. OMRF will soon begin stage one trials administering the investigational drug to patients in Oklahoma and Utah suffering from these tumors.