Marlborough father turns sorrow into action to help families of children with cancer

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By David Rosner, Contributing Writer

Tony Stoddard, and his son, Cole Stoddard who died of childhood cancer.
Tony Stoddard, and his son, Cole Stoddard
Photo/courtesy Tony Stoddard

Marlborough – Sophia’s Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Marlborough, was founded by Ben Donnarumma after his daughter, Sophia, lost her battle to Neuroblastoma cancer in 2004. Executive Director Tony Stoddard also has a personal connection in the ongoing fight against childhood cancer. His five-year old son, Cole, passed away from Neuroblastoma in 2012. 

 

The devastating effect of childhood cancer on families

In the United States, despite childhood cancer killing more children each year than all childhood diseases combined, the federal government allocates just under four percent of the cancer research budget to advancing medical practices. 

Stoddard explained that nearly “sixty percent of families who have a child with cancer declare bankruptcy because [its] so financially devastating. The medications, treatments, and travelling to appointments and hospitals is incredibly expensive and time consuming.” 

And like many nonprofits, Sophia’s Fund is struggling because of COVID-19. Stoddard even forwent his 2020 Executive Director salary so Sophia’s Fund “could stay afloat.” 

Sophia’s Fund’s goal is “to raise enough funds so childhood cancer can be eradicated someday. We want [Sophia’s Fund] to run out of business. We do not want to be needed in the future,” he added. 

 

Honoring Cole and other children like him

When Cole was dying, Stoddard ensured his son remained positive, discussing Cole’s future plans all the time, asking if he still wanted to grow up to be a firefighter, a policeman, or even, a professional motorcycle racer – all professions Cole aspired to. As days passed, his condition worsening, Cole sensed his increasingly finite time left. Eventually, when they chatted about Cole’s goals, he told his dad, “I’m not going to grow up to do anything.” Fighting back tears in his eyes, his dad sternly assured him, “I promise you; you’ll do something big.”

Year-round, the color gold is symbolic of the importance of advocating for, educating about, and raising awareness of, childhood cancer. Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is in September. After Cole died, in New England, Stoddard witnessed little awareness of childhood cancer. He began obsessively researching anything and everything reaching a wide audience lighting up pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. He shared Sophia’s Fund’s story, as well as Cole’s, with buildings, professional sports organizations, local governments, and more, seeking to raise awareness through displaying gold in September. Largely due to Stoddard’s efforts, the Prudential Center, the Boston Red Sox, and landmarks like the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, among others, light up gold in September. After years of contacting The White House, in September 2020, the building followed suit.  

In recent years, Stoddard attempted the Appalachian Trail to raise awareness for Sophia’s Fund and childhood cancer. Tearing his medial collateral ligament along the way, he still completed 500 miles. He was diagnosed with colon cancer and could not finish the 2,200-mile trek.  

When he promised Cole, “you’ll do something big,” he eventually decided it would be helping turn September gold across the world to raise awareness in his son’s memory. Despite his own health battles, Stoddard remains committed to that cause.

“It is my mission in life now. It is my one driving goal.” 

To learn, get involved, or donate, visit the Sophia’s Fund website.

 

 

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