There wasn’t anything the Lisk family could have done when patriarch Dennis Lisk received his diagnosis in May of 2015.
Glioblastoma is one of the fastest-growing and most aggressive cancers in the body, and it occurs deep in the brain. Lisk, a doting father, loving husband and dedicated employee of the city of Redmond, succumbed to his cancer in 2016.
He left behind wife Jenny, daughter Megan and son Peter.
Megan, who was 9 when her father died in January of 2016, sought solace in art. She has launched a fundraising site, Megan’s Cards for Cancer, to help prevent other families from experiencing the same fate.
“During Christmas, my school had a fair,” she said. “I made some cards and sold them. I got lots of donations.”
That’s an understatement. Lisk earned more than $500 for her cards. She immediately donated the money to her father’s doctor, Dr. Charles Cobbs, the director of brain research at Swedish Medical Center’s brain tumor treatment facility.
“This is important to me,” Lisk said. “It’s hard for me to lose my dad. I don’t want anyone else to lose their family.”
After the response from friends, teachers and parents at St. Louise School — the Catholic pre-K through 8th grade school where Megan and Peter go to school — she and Jenny thought she could make a difference for the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk.
The walk, heading into its 10th anniversary, will take place on Sunday, May 7. Since its inception in 2008, it has raised more than $4.6 million for brain cancer research and clinical trials at the ben & Catherine Ivy Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment, the Swedish-affiliated center where Dr. Cobbs treated Dennis Lisk. All funds raised by the walk go to the Ivy Center, none are touched by Swedish.
With Megan’s donation, she gave Dr. Cobbs a card she made herself.
“Thank you for being a great doctor,” Lisk wrote in the Christmasy card. “I hope one day you can find a cure for any brain cancer even if its not glioblastoma.”
Glioblastoma typically has a survival rate of just 4 percent five years after diagnosis. It, and other brain cancers, have no known cure. More than 79,000 Americans will be diagnosed with some kind of brain tumor this year, and around 17,000 lose the battle with that cancer every year. Brain tumors are the leading cause of cancer-related deaths for children under 14 and the third leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 39. Lisk hopes her donations to Dr. Cobbs can change those stats.
Megan wrote a letter to then-Vice President Joe Biden, asking if he could attend the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk. Biden’s son Beau died of glioblastoma in May 2015. His touching and frank discussion about losing his son in an interview with late night comedian and talk show host Stephen Colbert inspired the Lisk family.
“Joe Biden is a role model of mine,” Lisk said. “We had a “person of faith” report at school and I chose him. He gives me a lot of hope. He makes me want to keep going.”
Jenny said the example Joe Biden sets, as a statesman, a father and a devout Catholic, helps guide the Lisk family even as it deals with its own grief. The Biden family was instrumental in Cancer Moonshot, a project through the National Cancer Institute aiming at cancer research.
Megan, now 10, said she misses her father every day. Dennis Lisk attended Sammamish High School and the University of Washington before working his way up to senior planner for Redmond. The Lisk family lives near Tam O’Shanter Park, straddling the border of Bellevue and Redmond, but they have made the entire Eastside their home.
She said her father taught her to cook, a skill she uses often.
“He taught me how to make scrambled eggs, poached eggs and fried eggs,” she said.
Jenny Lisk said she asked her daughter if she might want to become a doctor or scientist to help fight cancer. Megan had a different route planned.
“No, I want to be an artist,” Megan said. “And use my skills to raise money for other people researching cancer.”