Society / Featured Parties

Children’s Cancer Fund’s Annual Gala Raises Funds For Life-Saving Research

"A Knight to Remember" Takes Place on April 19

BY // 03.25.24

Forget Gigi, Cara, or Kaia. The supermodel whose name will be on everyone’s lips at the Children’s Cancer Fund’s (CCF) annual gala on April 19? 14-year-old patient model Preston Pipkins. For the family, friends, and medical team who have walked alongside him during his battle with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), Preston’s presence is miraculous. 

Rae Pipkins began to worry when the rest of her family bounced back from a seasonal bug, but her usually active 12-year-old son did not. Preston struggled with normal activities, felt lethargic, and looked pale. When Preston experienced sharp headaches and felt cold to the touch on a hot summer day, Rae took him to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. Lab results conducted in the emergency room revealed Preston’s leukemia. The family’s life changed instantly. 

On that day, the hospital admitted Preston. He lived at Children’s Medical Center for the next six months, bravely enduring three rounds of intensive chemotherapy and ultimately a bone marrow transplant.

“He celebrated his 13th birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day during his hospitalization. It was difficult to get through everything he encountered during his treatment,” Rae described. 

AML is the most lethal leukemia in children. Despite intensive treatments like chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, one in four children with AML do not survive. As Preston walks the runway in CCF’s gala, “A Knight to Remember,” event attendees will see firsthand why they are there – to raise funds for life-saving cancer research that improves these sobering statistics.

Children's Cancer Fund
“A Knight to Remember” will raise funds for life-saving cancer research.

Jumping to the Cure

At the regal affair, chair Emberli Pridham, along with honorary chairs (and beloved Dallas royalty!) Troy Aikman and Dak Prescott, will call for guests to help fund an AML research project.

The study, which is being conducted by Dr. Sisi Zheng, will leverage “jumping genes” to eradicate AML so that future children with the diagnosis can avoid toxic therapies like chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, which have long-term effects.

A part of human DNA, “jumping genes” copy and paste their genetic material in new locations. When AML cells contain too many jumping genes, they die. A drug called 5-aza increases the level of jumping genes to help kill AML cells, but it doesn’t work for a long enough duration to make an impact on curing patients. 

Dr. Zheng’s study, which gala guests can fund during the evening’s paddle raise, will combine 5-aza with “immune-booster” drugs to supercharge AML’s response to the increased level of jumping genes. The goal? To discover the right immune-boosting drug to combine with 5-aza to cure children like Preston, who are diagnosed with AML. 

The results of this vital research could not only increase the cure rate of AML, but could also serve as a new first line of defense that not only treats AML, but other forms of cancer.

Diagnosed with a resistant form of AML, Preston’s rigorous treatment course included chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. The impact of Dr. Zheng’s research could change the course of treatment for children like Preston, allowing them to be cancer-free and return to a normal life through a more manageable treatment option.

Through all the dark and challenging days her son spent in the hospital, Rae recalls the medical team who worked tirelessly to save Preston’s life. 

“We were so lucky to have the most amazing, dedicated, smart, and compassionate nursing staff and team of doctors caring for Preston,” she says. “He talks about everyone often and is always happy to see familiar faces when he’s back for his regular checkups!”

Cheer Preston on and help Children’s Cancer Fund jump to the cure at the Hilton Anatole on April 19.

For more information or to purchase a sponsorship package for A Knight to Remember, click here.