News & Announcements

From campus to Capitol: Mizzou MoreThan4 advocates for pediatric cancer research 

April 12, 2024

Story by Ryan Gauthier

Two young women pose in front of the United States Capitol
Sofia Ortiz (left) and Erin Drummond traveled to Washington, D.C., this spring to speak with Missouri legislators about the challenges facing families dealing with pediatric cancer.

As Erin Drummond worked her way around Capitol Hill to meet with Missouri legislators, she brought along a stack of physically small but symbolically massive flyers. 

Each handout contained photos of several young children who have battled pediatric cancer — including Drummond’s sister Julia, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 3. Drummond was only 12 years old at the time, but the gravity of that experience inspired her to make a difference. 

“I was able to give those pictures to each representative and senator that we met, and it was incredibly meaningful to bring with me so many of the kids who I’ve watched suffer through cancer and pass away from cancer,” she said. “It humanizes the whole situation — we’re not just asking for $50 million for a bill, we’re asking you to help save these kids’ lives.” 

Drummond, a senior Health Science major at the University of Missouri, has worked for more than a decade to bring awareness and raise funds for pediatric cancer research. After coming to Mizzou for her undergraduate studies, she founded Mizzou MoreThan4, a student club that stems from a larger movement advocating on behalf of children suffering from cancer. 

Drummond and Sofia Ortiz, a junior Health Science major and vice president of Mizzou MoreThan4, were among more than 220 advocates who traveled to Washington, D.C., this February for the 14th Annual Alliance for Childhood Cancer Action Days. They met with Missouri legislators to raise awareness of pediatric cancer and encourage them to support several causes that would help families navigating these painful circumstances. 

“We’ll have to see what comes of it, but they were all incredibly gracious and thanked us for traveling all that way to share these stories,” Ortiz said. “We’re hoping that they’ll understand where we’re coming from and do what we need them to do.” 

Washington whirlwind 

Their trip to Washington was a whirlwind of activity, but Ortiz and Drummond appreciated the opportunity to network with likeminded people and learn directly from experts in pediatric oncology. Although pediatric cancer is less common than cancer in adults, they said the funding for research on the pediatric side is not proportional. 

According to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, only 4% of the federal cancer research budget currently goes toward pediatric cancer research. Through Mizzou MoreThan4, Drummond hopes to bring awareness to the cause and raise funding for lifesaving research. 

“Adults have had consistent drugs rolling in, but some pediatric cancers haven’t had a new treatment or changed their protocols in 30 to 40 years,” Ortiz said. 

When pediatric patients are treated with drugs and therapies developed for adults, the physiological differences can lead to debilitating and sometimes lethal side effects. More than 95% of children who survive their cancer end up suffering with severe late effects, Drummond said. 

“Even if you survive your cancer as a child, you’re almost guaranteed to have issues later in life,” she said. 

While in Washington, Ortiz and Drummond had opportunities to meet with U.S. Sens. Josh Hawley and Eric Schmitt and U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner. 

During each meeting, they spoke about the realities facing families that grapple with pediatric cancer. They also asked local legislators to support: 

  • $50 million in funding for the Childhood Cancer Data Initiative. 
  • $30 million in funding for the Childhood STAR Act. 
  • Funding increases for the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute. 
  • The Accelerating Kids’ Access to Care Act, which would reduce regulatory burdens to allow children with complex medical needs greater access to out-of-state providers. 
  • The Pediatric Cancer Drug Supply Act, which would create a pilot program directing HHS to establish and maintain a six-month reserve of essential childhood cancer chemotherapy drugs. 

The time in Washington was such a great experience that Drummond said they hope to send four Mizzou students to next year’s iteration of the event as well.  

“I always dreamed of being able to like pull together a community of people and advocate on behalf of pediatric cancer patients,” she said. “To finally be able to do that was literally a dream come true.” 

Four students pose for a photo
The time in Washington was such a great experience that Mizzou MoreThan4 hopes to again send four Mizzou students to next year’s Alliance for Childhood Cancer Action Days.

Advocacy in action

Since starting Mizzou MoreThan4 in January 2023, Drummond has watched the club’s membership grow from a handful of members to more than 150 students. The organization has contributed thousands of dollars’ worth of items to families affected by pediatric cancer locally and throughout Missouri. 

“We’re currently trying to sponsor three local families in the Columbia area who are in really desperate financial need,” Ortiz said. “Although we can’t completely alleviate that pain, we can do small things to make it better.” 

Ortiz still has another year left of her undergraduate studies, though she’s already preparing for her future by taking the MCAT and applying to medical schools. Drummond, meanwhile, was recently accepted into the Mizzou School of Medicine, and is excited to begin her medical training in the fall. 

While she spent much of the past decade wanting to pursue pediatric oncology, Drummond is keeping her options open for the moment as she begins this next chapter of life.  

“It’s hard to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life without actually doing it during rotations,” she said. “As sad as pediatric oncology probably can be at times, I do also think it would be incredibly rewarding when patients survive and thrive. I’m keeping my eyes open and will see where I land.” 

Drummond is excited to be staying at Mizzou because it means she can also continue to shape and grow Mizzou MoreThan4. She said building something from an idea in her head has been incredibly rewarding, so she appreciates the opportunity to stay involved with the club. 

She encouraged other students who would like to get involved with Mizzou MoreThan4 to join the group on MU Engage and start getting involved in everything from fundraising and volunteering to advocacy efforts.  

“Everyone I speak to supports our cause — they sometimes just aren’t aware of the issue,” Drummond said. “Unless you personally know somebody that has been affected by pediatric cancer, you probably don’t know about this. That’s why it’s so important to get the word out there.”