From Left: John Franco, David Plotkin, Trent Tucker and Richard Plotkin
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to have a heartfelt conversation with David Plotkin – Founder and Chairman of the Max Cure Foundation. The foundation is named for his son Max, a courageous eight-year old was diagnosed at the age of four with B- Cell Lymphoma, a form of cancer found in the lymph nodes and in the lymphoid tissues at the age of four years old. In Max, it was found in the bone of his right arm and left knee.
As the father of a healthy eight-year old, this was a sobering interview for me. I was able to count my blessings while at the same time develop a genuine concern for the plight of thousands of children like Max who are or who were fighting pediatric cancer. The Starting Five will do its part in honoring those children battling pediatric cancer.
Here are some facts about pediatric cancer that should concern us all.
Pediatric cancer claims more children under the age of 20 than any other disease and twenty five percent of the children that are diagnosed. The average age of a child diagnosed with pediatric cancer is only six years of age. A quarter of the elementary schools in the United States have a child attending who has been diagnosed with cancer.
Ron Glover: How did ‘Dunk Your Kicks’ come about?
David Plotkin: When you create a foundation you’re always looking for creative and innovative ways of getting involved in fundraising initiatives and we were trying to find something new and exciting. We take so much in life for granted like old sneakers that sit in the closet and came up with the concept of dunking your old kicks in to bins – I worked out a partnership with a company called Green Sneakers, a recycling company in Minnesota who pays us one dollar for every pair of sneakers we collect. In turn they recycle the sneakers and send them to impoverished countries to fill a need. And I thought what a neat concept where we’re not asking people for checks or to do anything other than just giving us old sneakers that could help us take steps towards finding and funding cures for patients with cancer, while helping give back to those that are less fortunate.
RG: How long has the program been in existence?
DP: I recently moved out of Manhattan after 18 years and we did a soft launch at four schools here in the Bergen county area. It’s amazing how excited the kids are so excited about Dunk Your Kicks. In fact, every morning when they walk into school, if they don’t have shoes that they’re dunking they’re looking into the bins to see how many more pairs of shoes have been collected. It has beaten our expectations in terms of the attention that we are getting and the excitement from the kids, the parents, the teachers and the administration. We’re getting requests from all around the country that want to bring Dunk Your Kicks to their schools. On February 15th, which is World Pediatrics Cancer Day,Trent Tucker and I went to the schools to count sneakers theat we’ve been collecting for the past month and we’re proud to say over 2,000 pairs of sneakers were collected. We will continue to keep launching at whatever schools and communities want to get involved. It is just another thing for kids to rally around as it teaches life lessons and philanthropy through the art of giving back. There’s no one pair of sneakers that are alike. They’re all different sizes, shapes and brands and that message alone resonates with the kids. We are all different but can come together as one for a great cause.
The sneakers also represent hope – which the kids are understanding and really loving.
RG: That’s special. Can you tell me about Max Plotkin? (David’s son)
DP: Max is in remission and has been cancer-free for about two years now. When he was four-years old, he was diagnosed with a rare form of B-Cell Lymphoma. I was working in finance in Manhattan and living two blocks away from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, one of the premier cancer centers in the world. I never paid that much attention to the building or ever thought that I would be on the inside until we were told that Max needed to go in for a biopsy. Before I knew it, I was spending the two years of my life in a hospital that I walked by every day. It’s amazing that for every dollar that goes to the American Cancer Society, less than three cents goes to pediatric cancer and it’s the number one leading cause of death amongst children. Unfortunately, there are so many forms of pediatric cancer that are so rare and this disease is so under funded. When you look at what Max had, he had a B-Cell Lymphoma in the bone of his right arm and in his left knee. There are only forty cases reported in the U.S. a year so you can understand why the funding is so minimized because all the money goes to more prevalent cancers. That being said, our family took a stand and we set out to raise money and awareness for pediatric cancer, I pulled the doctors aside and told them that I would dedicate the rest of my life to making a big difference in helping them attain their goals – just to get Max well.
I also made a promise to a much higher power – I’m a man on a mission and a father that made a promise and today I am just following through.
RG: Great. Is Max able to lead a normal life?
DP: Max is doing well, he would never be able to tell that he was in the fight of his life. He’s a beautiful boy, he has a full head of hair and he’s doing well. The life that he leads today is one that appears to be normal, but there are a lot of psychological effects that effect children because of the chemo – that which he underwent. There are also side effects from the harsh chemo that he underwent and I say that because the chemotherapy has to be very harsh in order to fight and kill cancer. The medicines that they use to treat these children are just as powerful as the cancer itself.
RG: I have an eight-year old myself and I’m listening to your story and trying to place myself in your position and I absolutely cannot imagine what you’re going through. All I can do is keep you and your family in my prayers.
DP: Thank you.
RG: Does Max understand the concept of Dunk Your Kicks?
DP: He does. The night that he was diagnosed with cancer I told him that we were going to get through this and that something good would come out of it and that I would be with him every step of the way. As he went through his treatments we talked a lot. There’s not much you can tell a 4,5 or 6-year old but as time went on, I’ve explained to him that there’s a reason why God chose him and a reason why our family was given the strength and we need to follow through on helping other children who are in need. Max, this past September spoke on Capital Hill in front of 500 congressmen, senators and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and that’s pretty amazing for an 8-year old boy. Max is understanding that he had cancer and he survived and now the Max Cure Foundation while it was inspired by him is changing lives and he’s up to the challenge.
RG: Have you been able to develop partnerships with any other foundations for this cause?
DP: Trent Tucker, who is a good friend of mine is the Ambassador of Max Cure and we thought if we were going to launch a national campaign for Dunk Your Kicks, we’d better align ourselves with an NBA basketball player and I couldn’t think of anyone more fitting than Trent Tucker, not just as a player but as an individual. It goes way beyond his ability as an athlete and he’s our partner in Dunk Your Kicks.
RG: I live in the Philadelphia area, how could I get involved?
DP: It can be done on a small or grand scale. Bins can be dropped off at your home, school, work or community center and I’ll send you the stickers and posters that explains the Dunk Your Kicks brand. Kids will dunk their used kicks into the bin and once the drive ends, we’ll come pick them up.
RG: I would love to be involved in some way. I lost my father to cancer twenty years ago this year and a brother almost two years ago so this disease and the fight for a cure is something that weighs heavy on my heart. I would like to have my son’s school involved. While his mother and I do a good job of explaining to him how blessed he is something hands on like this would be great for him.
DP: One concept that we talked about was dunking shoes in the memory of someone, kind of like a message in a bottle where you place a note inside of a shoe. You never know where that shoe can end up. We’re also looking to go into the inner cities as well and we started a program called Beyond Barriers that helps families in the inner city who are affected by pediatric cancer.
RG: I hope the best for you, Max and your family and you’ll continually be in my prayers. I will be in touch, if to just check in on Max.
DP: Thank you for your time.