The trajectory of one Cal Poly business administration alumnus’ life changed when his 12-year-old daughter was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a form of cancer most commonly found in infants that affects nerve cells outside of the brain.
Since then, Frank Kalman said he has dedicated his life to helping end cancer, specifically types found in children. Kalman co-founded End Kids Cancer in 2011 and said the goal is to bring together the top researchers in the nation to conduct clinical trials and put themselves “out-of business.”
How End Kids Cancer started
Kalman’s daughter, Calli, was 12-years-old when she complained of a lump on her side. Seven months later, doctors said she would not live.
“They told us she had a 45 percent chance of growing up. Then, seven months later she relapsed and the doctors told us she wasn’t going to make it,” Kalman said. “My wife and I said ‘we don’t buy it, we are going to find the best guy or gal, no matter where.’”
And so Kalman began going to conferences and reaching out to different hospitals in search of the best specialists researching neuroblastoma. And his efforts paid off.
After relapsing six times, undergoing three surgeries and completing around 300 weeks of chemotherapy, Calli beat the odds. She went on to follow her father’s footsteps and graduated from Cal Poly.
“Her battle is brutal, but she is considered one of the lucky ones, because there were a group of kids we became friends with, there were ten of them,” Kalman said. “Each one of these kids slowly kept dying off and when that last child died that’s when I decided I got to do something about it. So, I started the foundation.”
Through the connections he made during his daughter’s treatments, Kalman said he was able to form a committee of doctors who are trying to give children with neuroblastoma a fighting chance.
“I realized I spent 10 years looking for [the best doctors] and I knew exactly who they were,” Kalman said.
After hearing Kalman’s story, President Armstrong spoke about him at a commencement speech. The two connected shortly after and Armstrong joined as an advisory board member to the committee.
“I volunteered to sit on the advisory board of End Kids Cancer because I so passionately believe in the organization’s mission and in supporting Cal Poly graduates,” Armstrong wrote in an email to Mustang News. “I was deeply touched after meeting Frank and Calli Kalman and learning of Calli’s successful battle against childhood cancer. I knew then that I needed to be personally involved in any way that I could.”
The organization currently funds clinical trials, including autologous NK cell and T-cell trials that Kalman said are key to moving research forward and having a proof of concept. Kalman, who lives in San Luis Obispo, said the foundation plans to also start funding treatments for local children who suffer from neuroblastoma and are in need of financial assistance.
In addition to the foundation, Kalman wrote a ‘guidebook’ called Steps to Hope that gives advice on how to navigate cancer as a parent.
“I remember [thinking] ‘I got a business degree and now I’m supposed to pick and it could kill my daughter if I pick wrong,’ and that was incomprehensible,” Kalman said. “I just started looking more and more at the numbers, what numbers had the highest probability of success.”
Kalman said he hopes that all Cal Poly students realize that the skills they learn in college can be carried with them no matter where life takes them.
“Here I have a business marketing degree, knew nothing about biology, but I felt what I had gained here at Poly gave me the confidence to not be intimidated by the medical field,” Kalman said. “I figured I learned here that if you don’t know something, you know how to figure it out.”