To kick off Brain Tumor Awareness Month this May, the Cristian Rivera Foundation arranged for the “Rock Star” Warrior, Maria Kuenster to receive great seats at the Minnesota Twins game last weekend and to meet the CRF 2021 “Heroes Award” winner Gio Urshela. The next morning, they flew her to NYC where she also received special seats for a showing of Saturday Night Live from one of CRF’s most generous board members Kenan Thompson, who also greeted her after the show.
This is just a small way that the Cristian Rivera Foundation supports their warriors who mean everything to them. This giving and generous foundation supports research, families, awareness and clinical trials that aim to find a cure for DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma), a rare inoperable pediatric brain tumor. Their mission of finding a cure is possible because of the help and support of many, including Gio Urshela and Kenan Thompson.
Urshela and Thompson provide their encouragement and assistance to the Cristian Rivera Foundation, in addition to being supportive friends of CRF founder, John “Gungie” Rivera, who was inspired to start this foundation after losing his son to this horrific disease in 2009.
Gio Urshela is known for his generous work of visiting pediatric cancer patients and showing his support to his community. Because of his heart for community service, the Cristian Rivera Foundation awarded him the “Heroes Award” in 2021. The baseball player was also honored with an “Ambassador Award” from Hackensack University Medical Center for his several visits to the pediatric wing where he delivered cheer and encouragement to the patients there. When thanked for giving Maria the opportunity to meet him and watch the Twins game last weekend he said, “It was an absolute pleasure to be able to put a smile on Maria’s face.”
Kenan Thompson also is a huge support to the Cristian Rivera Foundation where he serves as a Board Member. Thompson, known for his amazing career in TV, film and comedy, is also one of the Cristian Rivera Foundation’s most generous donors. He is currently hosting the Kenan Thompson Ultimate Comedy Experience around the US where a portion of the proceeds will go to supporting the Cristian Rivera Foundation’s mission. He has also been a part of many fundraising events for this foundation, appearing at the Annual Cristian Rivera Foundation Celebrity Galas.
When thanked for giving Maria the chance to watch him live on SNL, he responded, “It’s what we do.” It’s inspiring how much these two celebrities have given of their time and money to support this amazing cause, especially in honoring DIPG warrior Maria Kuenster.
Maria Kuenster is an incredible young woman who was diagnosed with DIPG in June 2020, shortly after her college graduation. While in college, she studied healthcare management and was hoping to go into technology sales following her graduation, however, her career plans were put on hold after her DIPG diagnosis, and later, treatment.
Since DIPG is normally a pediatric brain tumor and Maria was diagnosed at the age of 22, Maria’s rare case hindered her from joining clinical trials because she was above the age of 18. After much searching, she was able to get on a clinical trial that has greatly improved her DIPG.
Since her treatment plan, Maria’s tumors are now stable according to her most recent MRI after receiving an IDH inhibitor that directly targets her tumor’s IDH mutation. Maria has been optimistic about this improvement and says that aside from fatigue and headaches, her current treatment does not affect her day-to-day life too much, which she is very happy about after going through chemotherapy treatments in the past.
Some of Maria’s best advice for any new DIPG patients and their families is to advocate for themselves. She says, “I would just say the most important thing is to advocate for yourself, especially with DIPG. There are only about 200 cases in the United States every year so it’s super important to advocate for yourself and [find] out what is the best treatment for you.”
The best way to support and advance DIPG research is to donate. DIPG is extremely underfunded in comparison to other forms of pediatric cancer. At the Cristian Rivera Foundation, donations are paramount to their mission of helping DIPG patients and families, and CRF has plenty of fundraising opportunities you can be a part of to help DIPG warriors like Maria.
Some of their upcoming events include the 5th Annual Cristian Rivera Foundation Full Steam Ahead 5K, the 6th Annual Cristian Rivera Foundation Flashback Boat Ride, and the 13th Annual Cristian Rivera Foundation Celebrity Gala.
Go to the CRF website to find out more about how you can support DIPG and the amazing warriors fighting this disease. If you’d like to make a donation to the Cristian Rivera Foundation, check out their website here.
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