Its celebrity status gets people’s attention each year. Area residents with deep pockets never fail to show up for a night of glitz and glam.
But the face of this year’s Children’s Cancer Fund gala should particularly resonate with McKinneyites: Their own Reese Skelte, 5, is the one on the gala invitation.
Reese, diagnosed with a pilomyxoid astrocytoma brain tumor three years ago, smiles at potential guests on the brochure, enticing viewers to attend “An Evening in Oz,” the nonprofit’s 28thannual fundraiser for pediatric oncology research and treatment programs.
“People need to have a face to the concept,” said Amanda Skelte, Reese’s mother who admits even she rarely thought about child cancer before it directly touched her young family. “Otherwise I don’t think people really connect.”
The gala returns Friday to the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas. Once a luncheon, the event has turned into a fashion show for cancer-stricken patients treated at Children’s Medical Center. The children, including Reese, who undergoes weekly chemotherapy treatments, will model down the runway in their donated attire alongside celebrity escorts.
Dallas Cowboys legends Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, co-chairs for the upcoming gala, will kick off the program and act as escorts, as will Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, Dallas SWAT, Miss Texas America and Sunny Malouf, among other celebrities.
Lisa Cooley, gala event co-chair, said that 30 years ago, half of all children diagnosed with cancer did not survive. Today, the survival rate is up to 80 percent.
“Even though wonderful progress has been made in the fight against this horrible disease, cancer still remains the No. 1 disease-related killer of children in the U.S.,” Cooley said in a news release, noting that 250 children die from cancer every day worldwide, yet pediatric cancers receive less than 4 percent of federal funding for research. “Together we can make a difference.”
Reese, a kindergartner at McKinney ISD’s McClure Elementary, already met Staubach. “She told him she had a fish named Roger,” her mother noted.
Children’s Cancer Fund has created a 2016 Calendar for the Gala featuring artwork by 12 children modeling in the show, including Reese. Just this week, shortly before going with her mom to pick up one of her four sisters, Reese was at the kitchen table painting.
Much like she’s been toward the dangerous growth in her brain, Reese seemed unaware of her already growing popularity as the face of the gala.
“She just doesn’t let things get her down,” Amanda explained. “You feel like you can’t really be sad when she’s happy about it.”
The first signs of trouble came at age 2, when Reese’s right arm went limp and hung to her side. Several doctor’s visits provided little insight. She wore a cast for a month because doctors first diagnosed a broken elbow – that wasn’t it.
Reese spent nights throwing up and went to the emergency room three times in a week. A CT scan finally revealed the tumor, and that’s what led her to Children’s Medical Center.
Reese has since lost and regained her red hair and made her weak hand the stronger one. She’s the second-youngest of her siblings, who all moved to McKinney in 2006.
Mondays are chemo days. Other days, she dances and plays soccer for the Sparkly Unicorns. Fittingly, her favorite class in school is art.
So a couple of surgeries and rounds of chemo later, how does she feel?
“Good,” Reese says with a big smile.
Those smiles in the midst of such turmoil – and at times, tragedy – are what pull on the heartstrings and pocketbooks of area residents. This year’s gala, the nonprofit’s largest annual fundraiser for pediatric cancer, is expected to raise more than $750,000. Since 1982, Children’s Cancer Fund has donated more than $7 million to the childhood cancer cause, according to officials.
There should again be plenty of glitz and glam at the fashion show event. And celebrities will be in abundance.
Even before she takes the stage, Reese might be the most recognizable of them all.
“It’s actually someone who they’re talking about,” Amanda said. “It is very sad, but they don’t relate to it until they see a face and it makes them happy or breaks their heart.”