On a blue sheet of paper featuring hand-drawn pastel balloons soaring through the clouds, a 12-year-old girl writes in neat cursive lettering. The note describes the young person’s aspirations for the future, written one week before she passed away from cancer.
Bonnie Freeman’s letter, dated July 3, 1983, explained the mission of Stop Children’s Cancer, a Gainesville nonprofit that seeks to prevent, control and cure cancer in children. Thirty-four years later, Stop Children’s Cancer works closely with researchers at UF Health to advance the cure rate of pediatric cancers through clinical trials.
Howard Freeman says his organization, which he founded with his wife, Laurel, and their daughters, Carolyne and Bonnie, is driven by Bonnie’s desire to help other families dealing with the trauma of a pediatric cancer diagnosis.
“I’ll never forget the day I drove to Bonnie’s pediatrician to hear that she may have leukemia. From that point on, my family’s lives were changed,” Freeman says. “Two to three weeks after she was diagnosed, Bonnie came to us and said, ‘Why don’t we raise money to help other kids and their families, so they don’t have to go through what we’re going through right now?’ For the next two years, Bonnie led her life with so much courage and enthusiasm. We know we can’t bring Bonnie back, but every child that is helped — we call them our Stop Children’s Cancer angels — makes us feel good about what we’re doing.”
In 2017, Stop Children’s Cancer donated $1 million to the UF College of Medicine. The gift ensures the longevity of the Bonnie R. Freeman Clinical Trials Fund, established in 2011 by a gift of $1.05 million. Over the last four decades, the Freemans’ organization has helped provide more than $7 million in funding for pediatric cancer research at the UF College of Medicine. The most recent gift will continue to fund the assistant directorship of clinical research at the UF Pediatric Oncology Clinical Trials Office, held by Giselle Moore-Higgs, PhD, as well as support the UF Pediatric Sarcoma Center and the center’s development of clinical trials to treat bone cancers like osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma.