Image: Marlo Thomas and St. Jude patients
John Zacher, St. Jude
 Marlo Thomas and St. Jude patients for the 2010 Thanks and Giving campaign
NBC News
updated 12/8/2010 5:11:05 PM ET 2010-12-08T22:11:05

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with actress Marlo Thomas about her work with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Founded in 1962 by Thomas’ late father, Danny Thomas, St. Jude is a leading pediatric facility that focuses on the research and treatment of catastrophic children’s diseases.

Marlo Thomas stars in the ABC sitcom “That Girl,” for which she received a Golden Globe. She is currently the national outreach director for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. In 2004 Thomas along with her brother and sister, spearheaded the “Thanks and Giving” campaign to increase awareness of the research that St. Jude’s is doing and to remind people to be thankful for healthy children and give to children who are not. The campaign launches every year, on the TODAY show,” on the Monday following Thanksgiving. We sat down with Thomas to find out more information about the campaign and the work St. Jude’s is doing to combat children’s disease.

Q: Is there anything new with the Thanks and Giving campaign?

Thomas: One of the things that is pretty exciting is that all sportscasters on Fox Sports are now doing St. Jude’s spots. That’s very big because when we first started this campaign we aimed it at moms, but over the years we have embraced the dads, and the uncles, and the brothers, and the grandpas as well. So this whole Fox Sports is pretty exciting for us especially because they also got the Super Bowl this year.

Q: Are there any significant breakthroughs in treatments that have happened in the past year?

Thomas: We’ve started on this genome project with Washington University, and we are ahead of schedule. We are trying to at least get the genetic profile of 50 children and we’re getting 75 instead. This is the future of cancer cures that we are able to do this. In other words, we’ll be able to look at a child’s DNA and find out what is the marker that is different, and then target that cell, target that bad cell, and create drugs for the cells that we find.

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Q: What advice would you give to families who just had a devastating diagnosis for their child?

Thomas: I would tell them to get on the Web and gather as much information as you can about every research. The TODAY show does five days of patient stories every year, and we had a child on with us whose mother told us that her daughter a year ago was given four weeks left to live from a very reputable hospital. They said there is nothing that we can do and anybody who says they can do anything is just going to be harming this child more then helping [her].

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So the mother saw the Jennifer Aniston commercial that we do during “Thanks and Giving” with a child who has the same symptoms as her child. She went on the Web and read about the research that we’re doing on that particular tumor. She then called St. Jude’s and that child, a year later, was on the TODAY show. That’s the difference between research and a mom or dad doing [his or her] own research about research.

Somewhere in the world, hopefully in the country, there is somebody that is working on a disease that nobody else knows anything else about. That is the difference between St. Jude’s and all other children’s hospitals. The other hospitals are not bad at all, they’re good hospitals, but they’re just working with what they know, and St. Jude’s is working with what nobody else knows, because they’re doing research. That is the important distinction.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thomas: Well, I would just like to say that we all look at our children and feel very lucky if they are healthy, and give thanks for the healthy kids in your life and give to those who are not. That’s what the Thanks and Giving campaign is. It’s about giving thanks for your kids and giving to those who are not quite as fortunate.

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