In January 2014, the young life of a beloved daughter and devoted sister was cut short by a rare form of cancer known as Merkel Cell Carcinoma.
At just 10 years old, Kelsey Dickson had a wonderfully vibrant personality. She loved to paint and draw with big dreams to one day be an architect. Kelsey had already named her future company KD Builders and Blueprints. Even during the difficult treatments for her rare form of cancer, this budding young architect stayed true to her positive philosophy on life; telling everyone around her, “There are only rainbows after rain.”
Kelsey became the first young child in the U.S. to be affected with Merkel Cell Carcinoma, shocking the medical community across the country and around the world. Merkel Cell Carcinoma had only been found in adults in their late 70’s or 80’s. Kelsey was given a 20% chance of surviving. Kelsey fought valiantly for the next 9 months; pushing through multiple rounds of chemotherapy, various drug cocktails, and even a clinical trial at Rutgers Institute of New Jersey. There was not one thing the Dickson family did not do in their search to save their daughter’s life.
On September 17, 2014, surrounded by her parents, Andy and Raquel, and loving brother, Kyle, Kelsey Dickson passed away.
To honor Kelsey’s life, her dreams, her spirit and her fight, the Dickson family has established the Kelsey Dickson Team Science Courage Research Award and two Kelsey Dickson-PCF Young Investigators. These research awards, which were generously funded by the OdysseyRe Foundation, are aimed at fighting aggressive cancers. “To continue her legacy, our family’s wish is that someday a cure will be found for this destructive disease and the lives of our precious children will be saved,” said Andy speaking on behalf of his family.
The recipients of the award are researchers at the world-renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle. The team, led by Dr. Paul Nghiem, is currently working on groundbreaking new treatments for Merkel Cell Carcinoma, the most lethal of all skin cancers.
Researchers believe that the answer may lie somewhere within the immune system. Findings have revealed that cells have the uncanny ability to “hide” from the immune system, which allows these cells to proliferate in the body unchecked. “Unmasking” these cancer cells and bringing them out of hiding- by understanding the “stealth” genes they use – would allow the cancer cells to be recognized by the patient’s own immune system and consequently eliminated.
Dr. Nghiem is working with world-class leaders in the field of cancer research including PCF researcher Peter Nelson and two Kelsey Dickson-PCF Young Investigators, Dr. Heather Cheng and Dr. Michael Schweizer. This team is examining potential synergies of Merkel Cell Carcinoma research with other cancers including neuroendocrine prostate cancer, the most lethal and aggressive form of prostate cancer.
Kelsey’s research awards are leading to new treatments for both children and adults who are diagnosed with Merkel Cell Carcinoma. These advancements will have applications to treat other cancers, providing hope around the world for patients like Kelsey.
Kelsey’s diagnosis, treatment, and tragic passing were not in vain. “Kelsey showed us to think of others before one’s self. Hers was a life well lived. She personified beauty both inside and out,” said her mother, Raquel.
As Kelsey would say, “There are only Rainbows after Rain.”