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Hope is rising on a cure for rare childhood cancer DIPG

On Nov. 15, music producer and promoter John (Gungie) Rivera will host the ninth annual celebrity fundraising gala for the Cristian Rivera Foundation.

Named in honor of his young son who lost a battle with cancer in 2009, Rivera has continued to work toward finding a cure for the extremely rare form of cancer that claimed Cristian’s life at the age of six.

Diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG) only affects an estimated 300 children worldwide and is generally diagnosed in kids between the ages of two and nine. Considered terminal, a child diagnosed with DIPG is usually given a lifespan of three to 18 months.

Yet despite these challenging odds, Rivera is not discouraged from his mission to help discover a cure.

“I feel strong that I will see a cure in my lifetime,” Rivera says. “I think in the next five years there will be a change in the survival rate and eventually it will be very treatable.”

He now has even more reason to be optimistic. Lisha Ayalais, 12, was diagnosed with DIPG five years ago. She became a part of clinical trials funded by Rivera’s foundation under the supervision of Dr. Mark Souweidane at Weill Cornell Medical center.

Cristian Rivera

Cristian Rivera

In the years since, Lisha has defied the odds.

“Lisha is going on five years with DIPG and in the last few years, her quarterly MRI shows zero growth and zero activity of her tumor,” said Rivera.

“She is living proof that we are making progress.”

This encouraging development has emboldened Rivera to work even harder to spread the word and increase support for the foundation so that more kids can join Ayala in her progress.

Sponsors like Goya and the Little Kernel Popcorn company have supported the foundation throughout the years, along with such committee members as actors Luis Guzman and Keenan Thompson, and anchor Darlene Rodriguez of NBC’s “Today in New York.”

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John (Gungie) Rivera, founder of the Cristian Rivera Foundation.

(Cristian Rivera Foundation)

This year’s gala will be held at the swanky Capitale (130 Bowery) after the event grew too large to be held at its former location — a sign that Rivera hopes means more funding is on the way for the foundation’s research.

“The more people that get behind us, the better chance we have at eradicating this disease,” Rivera says.

“Our goal is to raise a million dollars per gala. We’re not there yet, but we are going in the right direction.”

For more information on the Cristian Rivera Foundation and for tickets to the gala, go to cristianriverafoundation.org.

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Tags:
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DIPG
Luis Guzman
Keenan Thompson
Darlene Rodriguez
Cristian Rivera Foundation

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