Homegrown non-profit using art to bring attention to childhood cancer

Tracey Harmon founder of Naomi’s Fund

Tracey Harmon founder of Naomi’s Fund

By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
Staff Writer

A Hyde Park mother is organizing a city-wide art show to raise the profile of childhood cancer.

Tracey Harmon is the founder of Naomi’s Fund, a non-profit named for her daughter, who died at age 8 in 2010 of an undifferentiated sarcoma after three years of remission. The group received 501(c)3 status last July, and now Harmon has her sights on displaying artwork tackling childhood cancer to raise awareness – and funds.

“I think if people really just understood, it would really make a difference,” Harmon said.
Harmon began soliciting art inspired by artists who have known someone with childhood cancer in late April, and already has received more than 40 pieces of artwork. She is accepting art through the second week of July.

To date, Harmon says she’s received a commitment from 50 venues to hang the art, and is currently in discussions to show them at several major buildings downtown. She is also seeking to hang art at locations across Hyde Park, the Logan Center, 915 E. 60th St.; the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place, and the University of Chicago Medical Center.

“We’re all connected to childhood cancer, somehow. We just need to stop and figure out how we are connected,” Harmon said. “And once we find that connection, there’s a story that comes behind that connection. And from that story is how people are going to learn their facts.”

Harmon also plans to host an auction in late September, to raise funds for work by Dr. Navin Pinto, a pediatric oncologist and researcher at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital. She hopes for Naomi’s Fund to become more visible, so it can gain corporate sponsorships, and to coordinate research.

Only one to two in every 100,000 children is diagnosed with cancer. But more than a fifth of patients die within five years — versus almost 11 percent of breast cancer patients and slightly more than 1 percent of prostate cancer patients. And although cancer kills more children under 15 than any other disease, it receives a mere 3.8 percent of federal cancer research funding.

“There just needs to be more private funding toward pediatric cancer,” Harmon said. “You see pink everywhere, and everything is about breast cancer. It’s because women stood up and said, ‘Wait a minute. Our disease is just as important as [men’s]. And it started with awareness. And I think that children just aren’t getting their fair shake, as far as awareness.”

Although Harmon wants to raise awareness, she criticized the euphemistic portrayal of pediatric cancer in the face of its grim realities.

“I remember after Naomi was in remission, she saw a picture of herself and she saw her hands. And she said, ‘Mommy, what happened to me?’ And I said, ‘That was the chemo.’ People just don’t realize. It’s not that pretty. And I think if you don’t share, then people don’t understand.”

Years later, Harmon can vividly recount her daughter’s diagnosis at age 4; an unsuccessful surgery and a successful 10 month treatment; her relapse years later and visit to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

But she can also recall the good times: a trip to a North Carolina beach town; the games Naomi played at home and in the classroom; the way she loved her cat, Molly; her childhood crew of friends, “The Three Amigos;” and the joys of being a newly adoptive mother.

“I told Naomi, for whatever reason,” Harmon said, “you weren’t supposed to come from my stomach, but I was meant to be your mom.”

To learn more about Naomi’s Fund, visit naomisfund.org. To submit art to Harmon’s upcoming show and auction, send an e-mail to traceyharmon@naomisfund.com.

j.bishku@hpherald.com