When Andrew Kaczynski and Rachel Ensign returned to Boston for the first time since their daughter, Francesca, passed away from an infant brain tumor, they arrived at Fenway Park on a personal mission to defy cancer.
“Being back here, I felt her spirit in a way that I hadn’t in a long time,” remarked Andrew, Francesca’s father, on-air during the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon presented by Arbella Insurance. He and his wife were at Fenway Park for the event to share their story and the evolution of “Team Beans.”
Inspired by their nickname for Francesca, Team Beans’ fundraising efforts have now amounted to more than $1.3 million, with more than $1.1 million generated through the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), to support the new Infant Brain Tumor Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where Francesca was treated.
“On the early ultrasound, she looked just like a little bean, so we would call her ‘Beanie,’ and over time, it evolved to ‘Beans,’” Rachel recalled. “It was nice to have something silly to call her by, but now, ‘Team Beans’ has taken on a new meaning, and it’s what we call all our fundraising efforts.”
Francesca was diagnosed with an atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (ATRT) in 2020, when she was just 6 months old. Andrew and Rachel grew concerned when she developed severe vomiting; though not uncommon for healthy babies, they brought her to urgent care for an evaluation where she was diagnosed with a stomach bug. Their guts told them there was something else wrong.
Following a trip to the emergency room soon after, they got a call with Francesca’s official diagnosis. “My heart dropped,” said Andrew. “I handed the phone to my wife to go throw up in the bathroom, then I just held Francesca telling her how sorry I was.”
Both reporters in New York City, Andrew and Rachel decided to head to Dana-Farber in Boston for Francesca’s treatment. “We were taken care of like family,” said Andrew. “The team at Dana-Farber were the only ones who thought it’d be a good idea to operate, and it was a success. It’s those choices that really improve patient outcomes. We never feel like we’ve made a wrong choice, and that gives me a lot of peace.”
While Francesca ultimately died on Christmas Eve 2020, at just 9 months old, her memory has created a powerful movement of kindness and generosity—and incredible fundraising. What started with one family and one story has spread to several fundraising efforts, all to help fund research to find breakthroughs for infant brain tumor treatment.
When Danielle Pourbaix, a 2021 Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) Winter Cycle rider, came across Andrew’s Twitter feed documenting Francesca’s treatment journey, she reached out to ask permission to dedicate her PMC ride in Francesca’s honor. The kindness radiates from there: As word spread, more and more donors came through in support of Francesca and her family, collectively raising more than $1.1 million through both Pourbaix’s PMC Winter Cycle and Team Beans’ PMC fundraising efforts.
Now, Andrew will run the Boston Marathon® in October for Team Beans, adding further momentum to their enormous efforts—and more funding for the new Infant Brain Tumor Program.
Funded by Team Beans and led by Susan Chi, MD, Francesca’s neuro-oncologist, the new program will bring a heavy focus to bettering the treatment options for and survival rate of the youngest brain tumor patients. Dr. Chi and Andrew teamed together again to share Francesca’s story on Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN podcast Chasing Life, speaking on Francesca’s life and diagnosis.
“There’s so much work left to do to understand how brain cancer works in infants and to explore less brutal treatments,” Andrew said. “Progress in this fight will only be made bit by bit through the kinds of clinical trials and research projects that the program will house and that our efforts will fund.”
Support more patients like Francesca by participating in the PMC, running the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge, or making a gift through The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign at DefyCancer.org.