Lake Norman & Mooresville

Huntersville family leads drive for cure to rare cancer

James and Nancy Perri, with officials from the Anderson Center. From left are James Perri; Dr. Charles Conrad, professor of neuro-oncology; Nancy Perri; and Kevin Pickett, executive director of development at the Anderson Center.
James and Nancy Perri, with officials from the Anderson Center. From left are James Perri; Dr. Charles Conrad, professor of neuro-oncology; Nancy Perri; and Kevin Pickett, executive director of development at the Anderson Center. OPERATION OLIGO CURE

The prestigious MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has been chosen to do research toward a cure for oligo, a rare form of brain cancer.

Huntersville resident James Perri has the disease and his wife, Nancy – the leading force behind the nonprofit group seeking a cure – hopes their fundraiser on April 17 will provide a healthy sum of money to fuel further research.

“They are doing great things for cancer research, specifically strategies targeting the molecular make up of brain tumors,” said Nancy Perri, a health and benefits representative for Paychex Insurance Agency based in Rochester, N.Y. “Our goal is to fund research that can proactively deal with brain tumors as opposed to funding research that learns about the effects of chemotherapy and radiation.”

Perri coordinated her first fundraiser last September, which raised $42,000. “I had no idea what to anticipate since I never did anything like that before and was completely out of my comfort zone. However, we had over 100 people in attendance and it was a great success.”

During the planning for the September gala, Patrick Ronan, one of the board members for Operation Oligo Cure, spearheaded the research to find a facility with the best brain tumor research program in the country. They eventually chose the MD Anderson Cancer Center, for research specifically for oligodendroglioma (shortened to oligo) brain tumors.

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is one of the original three comprehensive cancer centers in the United States established by the National Cancer Act of 1971. It is both a degree-granting academic institution and a cancer treatment and research center. It was ranked No.2 for cancer care in the 2014 “Best Hospitals” survey published in U.S. News & World Report.

James Perri, 43, an Emergency Department doctor with the Novant Hospital Group, was first diagnosed with oligo in 1996 when he was 24, and a medical student at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. He had been experiencing dizzy spells and an MRI finally confirmed that he had oligo. A small tumor in his right temporal lobe was removed.

Twelve years later, during an annual brain scan, doctors found a tumor in the same spot, without symptoms. He underwent aggressive treatment including chemo, radiation and surgery and was declared tumor-free.

Oligo is most commonly seen in young and middle age adults (mostly men). The most common symptoms are seizures, headaches and personality changes. Survival rates vary, treatment options are limited and there is no known cure.

After the gala in September, Nancy’s foundation started a direct-giving campaign, simply telling people about their foundation’s goal and asking for their support via conversation, email and Facebook.

“The generosity of many friends, colleagues and good people in the world has been overwhelming. We’ve received donations from those that are impacted by the disease including a $10,000 check from Stephen Colbert’s foundation. One of his staff members had a family member impacted by a brain tumor.”

The Perris live in Huntersville with their children, Jack, 10, and Sofia, 8.

Dave Vieser is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Dave? Email him at davidvieser@gmail.com.

Want to help?

The next Operation Oligo Cure fundraiser will be held 6-10 p.m. April 17 at the Elder Gallery in Charlotte. Tickets – $100 per person – include silent and live auctions, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, a carving station, a dessert station and dancing. For information, including how to make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.oligocure.org or email Nancy Perri at nperri@oligocure.org.

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