Family Presses on in cancer fight

Turner and Tara Simkins are on a mission -- and it's not to run a marathon or make a million dollars.


They have raised close to a half-million dollars -- money for cancer research to help children like their 9-year-old son, Brennan.

He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in January 2009, and the diagnosis changed their lives forever.

"Everyone had a bad feeling about it," Turner Simkins said. "When we finally found out, it was so surreal."

It's still surreal, he said, and their family has had to learn to live day to day, working toward a cure.

They are co-founders of Press On, a nonprofit organization that has raised more than $400,000 in cancer research funding.

The Simkinses joined Press On after Brennan was diagnosed. The foundation was started by their longtime friends, Stephen and Erin Chance.

The Chances' son, Patrick, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in June 2006.

Press On gives to cancer treatment trials that are ready to go into final tests and possibly save children's lives -- all that is needed is money.

"It's not profitable for pharmaceutical companies to back this research," Turner Simkins said. "So few kids get these kinds of illnesses, but it is so serious when they do."

The money doesn't always come in large amounts, and many donors don't even know the families they support. On one fundraising Web site, Brennan's account has received almost $30,000 in the last year, all from donors giving gifts ranging from $15 to $1,000.

One giver wrote: "Brennan, you look just like our son, Brent, when he was your age. We don't know you, but we love you."

The kindness of strangers has been a surprise and joy for the two families, even as the Chances' home was burglarized and Patrick's wallet was stolen.

It held $82 the boy was saving to buy a Lego Death Star kit, and as news of the burglary spread, donations came in from people who remembered playing with Lego toys as children.

"Legos are awesome, dude," said a donor who gave $21.54 to Patrick's fund. "I always build robots with them."

An Atlanta television station, WXIA, even contacted the Lego company and arranged for Patrick to receive a Death Star kit as a gift from Lego.

The support has been inspiring, Turner Simkins said, but the most energizing thing is seeing the boys take their illnesses in stride.

"Brennan sees this as a problem that he has to take care of and deal with," he said. "He's old enough to realize what's going on, but young enough to not get overwhelmed."

Brennan's two brothers, Nat and Christopher, are an ever-present support. The situation has been difficult for them as well, having to leave their home and school in Augusta to shuttle back and forth from Memphis, Tenn., and their brother.

"They've been incredibly strong," Turner said of the "band of brothers," as he calls them.

Right now, Brennan is on the upswing from a fourth bone marrow transplant and his family hopes he is on his way to beating his leukemia for good. One doctor said that Brennan's recovery from this transplant has been the fastest he had ever seen. Brennan hopes to be back home in Augusta by this summer.

Patrick is in treatment in Philadelphia, undergoing intravenous radiation that might stop the spread of his cancer.

"We have a long ways to go," Turner said of Brennan's status. "It could change at any minute."

Turner and Tara want most of all for their son to be safe, but even if Brennan's cancer is cured, their fight against childhood cancer will not be over.

"We're living on the front lines, and our motivation is very urgent," Turner said. "We're donating into initiatives that directly help these kids, and that's not going to be over anytime soon."



learn more

Read more about Brennan Simkins, above, and Patrick Chance, and how you can help, at