It was 2005, and Beth Anne Baber was seven months pregnant with her third child when she got the kind of news no mother wants to hear. Her second child, Nicholas Conor, had been diagnosed with an inoperable tumor in his chest. He was 15 months old.
Like other parents living the same nightmare, Baber confronted a nerve-wracking dilemma. And as a cancer researcher in a lab at the Salk Institute, Baber was all too familiar with the insidious disease.
“Because both my husband and I are scientists, we really took our scientific background to his treatment,” Baber said. The doctor recommended a bone marrow transplant. Baber and her husband agonized over the fateful decision and eventually refused. They didn’t feel it was warranted.
After enduring multiple rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments over a two-year period, Conor survived. His treatment ended in 2006; he’s nearly six years old and healthy today. But the ordeal changed Baber’s life.
Motivated by her son’s close brush with death, Baber, 44, co-founded the Nicholas Conor Institute, a fledgling pediatric cancer nonprofit that launched here last October. By focusing specifically on children’s cancer, Baber and her colleagues aim to translate research into better treatments.
Developing new drugs and diagnostic tests is often tremendously expensive, and diseases that afflict a small number of patients — like childhood cancers — don’t always offer enough financial return to attract investment. Baber hopes her organization can help find funding and cut the cost of developing new approaches.