Fairfield couple recognized for raising cancer research funds
Dana and Michael McCreesh were recently recognized by the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge for raising $5 million for cancer research and treatment. The Fairfield couple attributes this success, though, to a team of 56 bicyclists who ride in the 200-mile charity bike-a-thon in honor of their son, Brent McCreesh.
On June 3, Brent, 9, celebrates his sixth "cancer-free" anniversary, Dana said.
She pointed out that although she delivered the keynote address this month at the organization's annual "Heavy Hitter" dinner, she represented all of the outstanding efforts of TeamBrentwheels, also known as TeamBrent. Beginning with nine cyclists seven years ago, TeamBrent continues to expand.
"Part of the reason that we've done so well is that we've had this huge team," Michael said. "And people continue to support us because it really is a team effort."
He said that it's always been about the bigger picture, which is funding research to help children with cancer, such as their son.
In 2004, Brent, then 2 years old, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, an aggressive cancer characterized by malignant tumors throughout the body.
Brent's initial symptom on the day he was diagnosed was lethargy. The child was so tired that he nearly passed out from the time he saw his pediatrician, Dr. Jeffrey Owens in Westport, to when he was sent to Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital's oncology department that day because of abnormal blood work, Dana said.
That same day, Dana and Michael learned that Brent had stage four cancers in his bones. "We didn't believe them at first," the boy's mother recalled.
To look at Brent today -- an energetic 9-year-old who plays soccer, baseball and lacrosse -- it's hard to believe that he was ever that sick. "He's totally healthy and totally recovered," she said.
Brent lives with his parents and two sisters, Madison, 10, and Kira, 6, in their Fairfield home. Dana was pregnant with Kira when Brent was first diagnosed with cancer.
Because Dana and Michael -- and even Madison -- cannot forget the children unable to beat cancer, they are committed to raising money for research and treatment.
"Being in the cancer world, we've known and lost a lot of friends to all kinds of cancers," Dana said.
Though TeamBrent was started as a way to "channel our energy," it's become a mission for not just the McCreesh family, but for many others, Dana said.
Madison said her best friend's brother died from brain cancer last year. The family lives a few blocks from the McCreesh home.
At the Cape Cod Sea Camp, where Madison spends her summers, she is involved with several activities -- selling homemade bracelets, decorated rocks and tattoos -- that raise money for cancer care.
"I want to help other kids so that they could get better like Brent did," Madison said.
Every year the campers form a "human hedge" by lining up in front of a group of trees that line the bike route and cheer on the cyclists. This year is the seventh time Michael has rode in the Pan-Mass Challenge. Although he is a runner rather than a cyclist the rest of the year, Michael likes the bonds forged during the two-day event. Taking breaks every 25 miles or so, he finds it interesting to talk to riders from all over the country and even abroad about why they participate in the arduous bike-a-thon. Beginning in Sturbridge, Mass., the ride culminates on Cape Cod. Now in its 32nd year, the Pan-Mass Challenge has raised $303 million for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Dana said each team can direct their money raised to specific areas of research, and TeamBrent focuses on neuroblastoma.
"We are fortunate to be partnered with Dr. Lisa Diller at Dana-Farber," Dana said. "I give her the money and she uses it the next day. TeamBrent has built a room there to treat patients."
The team's goal is to raise more than $400,000 in this year's Pan-Mass Challenge.
"Dana, Michael and the entire Team Brentwheels truly embody the PMC spirit," PMC spokeswoman Jackie Herskovitz said. "When faced with a devastating cancer diagnoses, they became crusaders against the disease.
Their fundraising efforts have led to better care for other children fighting cancer. Their commitment to raising money for cancer research through the Pan-Mass Challenge inspires all of us."
Seven years ago, TeamBrent also raised funds for childhood cancers through the St. Baldrick's Foundation. By shaving their heads, people raise funds and awareness. Dana said Brent shaved his head this year for the first time and, although Maddie opted to keep her long locks, she enthusiastically solicited funds for her brother.
"Brent is doing well but it's never over," Michael said. "That's one thing that people forget -- we need to keep the research going."
For more information about joining, volunteering or donating, go to www.teambrent.com.