19-year-old honors grandmother by raising money for brain cancer research
September 27, 2016 | by Veronique de Turenne
When Nick Troftgruben lost his grandmother to brain cancer three years ago, he promised himself that he would do something significant to honor her memory.
By organizing a four-month, 2,659 mile fundraising hike and generous donation to glioblastoma research at City of Hope, he fulfilled that pledge.
My grandmother went through so much and stayed so strong, I just really needed to make her death into something meaningful,” Troftgruben said. “I didn’t want the kind of pain our family went through to happen to more people, so I knew I had to raise money for research.”
Not only did Troftgruben know that he wanted to contribute money, he knew exactly where he wanted to make his donation.
“My Aunt Christine is a leading researcher in the same kind of brain cancer that my grandmother had,” he said, referring to scientist Christine Brown, Ph.D., the Heritage Provider Network Professor in Immunotherapy and associate director of the T Cell Therapeutics Research Laboratory at City of Hope. “I couldn’t think of a better place to make a donation.”
Brown, who joined City of Hope in 2002, focuses her research on new therapies for glioblastoma. A nationally renowned researcher and newly appointed Heritage Provider Network Professor in Immunotherapy, she is at the forefront of using immunotherapy to fight cancer.
“We just opened a clinical trial last year that is based on our research,” Brown said. “Nick knew about my work and when his grandmother got her diagnosis, he reached out to me.”
Troftgruben was 17 when his grandmother, Yvonne Rae "Vonnie" Troftgruben, was diagnosed with brain cancer. The specific type – glioblastoma – is the most common and most aggressive kind of cancer that begins within the brain.
Glioblastomas can occur anywhere in the brain, including the brain stem and cerebellum. Symptoms of the disease, which often include headaches, nausea and seizures, also depend on where in the brain the tumor is located.
Although the family wanted to bring Vonnie to City of Hope for treatment, her cancer proved too advanced for that to be possible. Five weeks after her diagnosis, she passed away.
That’s when Troftgruben decided to walk the 2,659-mile Pacific Crest Trail in her honor. He also launched a blog to chronicle the walk and set up a Go Fund Me page to collect donations.
“Grandma used to say, ‘Only boring people get bored,’ Troftgruben wrote on the Go Fund Me page, explaining his endeavor. “Her words of wisdom are the inspiration for this website and my journey on the Pacific Crest Trail.”
Troftgruben began his walk near the Canadian border and headed south. His blog is filled with miles logged, stunning photographs and details of what it’s like to hike up to 20 miles per day along the highest portion of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. He celebrated his 19th birthday on the trail.
After four months, Troftgruben ended his hike in Bishop, California “I was running out of money and it felt like it was time to wrap things up,” he said.
Now, with a $1,500 check to help support brain cancer research at City of Hope, Troftgruben feels a sense of peace and accomplishment.
“My grandmother was always positive about everything – I never saw her mad about anything or with anyone, even while she was sick,” he said. “She was super awesome and a huge inspiration to me. If this donation helps in any way, then that means everything.”
Brown is proud of her nephew’s thoughtful gift. “To do something like that and dedicate it to someone you love in order to raise awareness for cancer is amazing in a 19-year-old,” she said. “It’s very special that he would have this idea and then carry it out.”
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