Family of former cancer patient continues to raise funds at Porter Robinson’s Second Sky Music Festival to help families of pediatric cancer patients at UNC Project-Malawi
California’s Bay Area boasts one of the more vibrant music scenes in our country. From the San Francisco Pop Festival of the 1960s to modern day events like Napa Valley’s BottleRock, these cultural gatherings have always made an impact on our society.
Producer Porter Robinson’s Second Sky music festival was held last fall for the third time and has quickly carved out a place on the region’s festival calendar with a unique event that is equal parts electronic dance and theme park that boasts an important charity element to it – the Robinson Malawi Fund (RMF).
While on tour in November 2016, Robinson received a phone call that would forever change his life. His younger brother, Mark, was admitted to UNC Basnight Cancer Hospital and was diagnosed with a rare form of fast-growing cancer called Burkitt lymphoma. Over the course of Mark’s cancer treatment, the Robinson family – four brothers and their parents – struck up a powerful relationship with Kate Westmoreland, MD, who successfully cured Mark of the disease.
“We forever will be grateful for the excellent care that Mark received at UNC and especially for the chance for our lives to converge with Kate,” said Nancy Robinson, Mark and Porter’s mother. “Mark’s treatment was inpatient, so we spent many nights at the hospital. We had a lot of face time with Kate at all hours of the day and night.”
Burkitt lymphoma is successfully cured in 90 percent of cases in the United States, however, the prospects are not as bright in Malawi, a small country located in southwest Africa, where Burkitt’s is the most common form of cancer and where the survival rate has been as low as 29 percent when Westmoreland first arrived in 2015.
Westmoreland leads the pediatric and adolescent oncology program for the Malawi Cancer Consortium at UNC Project-Malawi. African youth have a higher prevalence of Burkitt lymphoma because of repeated exposer to malaria in childhood, and repeated malaria infections along with a few other factors can cause this type of lymphoma to develop.
“When she was caring for Mark, she began sharing stories about the children with Burkitt lymphoma in Malawi and their families,” explained Nancy. “We asked a lot of questions to learn more about their lives. Our whole family was struck by Kate’s life’s work and the opportunity to be a part of improved outcomes for the children and their families in Malawi.”
The disparity of care in Malawi for Burkitt lymphoma was evident to the Robinson family and they wanted to do something to change that fact. Born out of the conversations with Dr. Westmoreland was the creation of the Robinson Malawi Fund in 2019 to provide funds for direct patient care to children in Malawi.
Second Sky Music Festival
Porter Robinson, a Billboard Music Award and Grammy-nominated artist from Chapel Hill, created Second Sky primarily for the music, but it has evolved into so much more with the fundraising for the RMF. The three festivals have raised more than $400,000 and a large percentage of the funds were used by Westmoreland to buy a two-year supply of chemotherapy drugs along with supportive care medicine needed to treat symptoms and complications that arise from intensive chemotherapy.
The third edition of Porter’s annual music festival took place October 29 at the Oakland Arena Grounds in Oakland, California. While the sold-out show featured a lineup of top EDM, dance and hyper-pop musicians hand-picked by the organizer himself, the festival continues to be a vehicle to raise money for the fund.
Porter told Rolling Stone magazine, “I hope that charitable spirit can really reach people, because it’s just really easy to get caught up or lost in your bubble … I just remember what it was like to be a relative, not even going through it myself, of somebody who’s going through cancer treatment. I was in such such such bad shape. My whole family was, too. I was just having all these medical issues and psychological issues, and was just so worried about my best friend, you know? So, I thought if there’s anything we can do to help relieve some of the suffering for other people going through a similar or worse scenario, that would be really great.”
The Robinson family once again collected donations at the festival and Porter matched dollar for dollar all donations collected at the event. A final number of the money raised at the 2022 event is due in the coming months and an exciting new project in Malawi is on the horizon.
Give Me Shelter
Porter and the Robinson family along with Westmoreland have set their sights on raising funds to build a shelter adjacent to the pediatric oncology ward where families can stay throughout their child’s treatment in Malawi. With just two hospitals to treat pediatric cancer patients in the entire country, some of Westmoreland’s patients must travel long distances to receive treatment.
“They don’t have an adequate place to stay, sometimes the parents are staying underneath the beds of the kids,” said Porter. “We thought the best solution here would be to build something akin to a Ronald McDonald House, basically a shelter, where the parents of kids that are going through treatment and their families can stay on site next to Kamuzu Hospital.”
Malawi’s Ministry of Health has donated land beside the hospital for a building that will become a more home-like environment, with a community space for parents to meet, a kitchen where they can prepare meals, a garden, a play area, a teen music room, and a classroom. Coincidentally, one of Porter’s most popular songs is aptly titled, “Shelter.”
Programming at the center will include instruction in the production of crafts that can be sold to generate income, something that has been successful at similar family housing in the region.
“With everyone in our family being able to support Mark through his intense treatment, it would mean a great deal to our family to know that the Robinson Malawi Fund could improve the experience of other families whose children are going through Burkitt lymphoma treatment,” Nancy Robinson said.
In addition to the money raised through his festivals, Porter is donating 10 percent of his income this year to charity. Half is going towards the shelter, and the other half, to the Against Malaria Foundation, an organization that distributes insecticidal bed nets to Africa.
“Since malaria can cause Burkitt lymphoma, not only will you fight malaria in Africa and save a great deal of lives on its own, but it also helps prevent this one cancer that we’re especially concerned about because of this personal experience,” said Porter.
To donate or to learn more, visit the fund’s website – Robinson Malawi Fund – or contact Jinhee Lee, Director of Development, firstname.lastname@example.org.