Andrew Kaczynski and Rachel Ensign’s lives were upended in September 2020 when their baby daughter, Francesca, was diagnosed with atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (ATRT), one of the most malignant and aggressive of all brain tumors that affect infants. The family moved from New York to Boston so that Francesca, affectionately called “Beans” by her parents, could receive treatment at Dana-Farber/ Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorder Center.
Tragically, on Christmas Eve, a few months after her diagnosis, Francesca died. Andrew and Rachel, both journalists, had used social media to share their family’s story during Francesca’s treatment and after her passing. Their candor and vulnerability were matched only by Beans’ joy at life and bravery in the face of her cancer.
“We miss Francesca tremendously every day,” said her mom and dad. “We will always be her parents and our efforts to fight childhood cancer are a way of staying true to our responsibility to take care of her.”
The Team Beans fundraising movement got a boost when Francesca’s story caught the attention of Danielle Pourbaix, a rider in the PMC Winter Cycle, the stationary cycling event at Fenway Park that kicks off fundraising each year for the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC). Though she had never met the family, Danielle was inspired to reach out to Andrew and Rachel for permission to ride the Winter Cycle in Francesca’s honor.
Overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from family, friends, and even strangers, Andrew and Rachel established the Team Beans Infant Brain Tumor Fund at Dana-Farber to maximize the impact of gifts made in Francesca’s memory. With more than $1.5 million raised to date, the Team Beans Fund is supporting Dana-Farber’s new Infant Brain Tumor Program within the Pediatric Brain Tumor Center at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. This specialized, comprehensive research and clinical program spans multiple disciplines—cancer biology, computational biology, neuro-oncology, neuropathology, neurosurgery, and more—and is laser-focused on the treatment and care of the youngest of children.
“Support from Team Beans was instrumental in our ability to launch the new Infant Brain Tumor Program,” said Susan Chi, MD, deputy director of Pediatric Neuro-Oncology. “Treatments are currently limited for ATRT and other malignant and aggressive brain tumors that affect infants—but we hope to change that.”
The Team Beans movement continues to gain momentum. Andrew participated in the PMC as a first-time rider in August 2021 alongside 17 other riders who comprised Team Beans, collectively raising more than $1.1 million through both Pourbaix’s PMC Winter Cycle and Team Beans’ PMC fundraising efforts. The PMC donates 100% of every rider-raised dollar to Dana-Farber and is its largest single contributor, accounting for 55% of the Jimmy Fund’s revenue. Andrew also ran the 2021 Boston Marathon®, raising $200,000 for Team Beans, and has no plans to stop. “Francesca will not get to live the life she should have. She should have been able to build her own story and her own legacy, but Rachel and I will build her legacy for her through the Team Beans Infant Brain Tumor Fund,” said Andrew.