Shirley Howard, Founder, The Children’s Cancer Foundation, Inc.

A conversation with Diane Perry, daughter of CCF’s Founder Shirley Howard

It’s been nearly 40 years since the founding of The Children’s Cancer Foundation, Inc. (CCF) and we’re still raising awareness and funds to ensure the public understands the devastation of pediatric cancer and assists in providing essential funding to find a cure.

Today, CCF stands proud to have been a vital part in changing the face of pediatric cancer research and treatment, raising over $43 million dollars since 1983.

We learned a bit about the origins of CCF in May of 2022, as shared by Diane Perry, daughter of Shirley Howard:

The early 1980s

Shirley was moved and upset when she saw the cancer treatment for children at Johns Hopkins Hospital through a child’s eyes.

One of the many honors Shirley Howard received as Executive Director of The Children’s Cancer Foundation was a proclamation from former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith.

Children receiving chemotherapy had to walk through treatment areas where adults were hooked up to machines to get to the two chairs set aside for children.

This area was old and worn. There were drab colors and no toys to help sick children feel comfortable during treatment.  When children needed hospitalization, there were no existing pediatric facilities. Children were placed in units with adult cancer patients.

Shirley met with the families of these patients. She left Johns Hopkins that day determined to change the face of children’s cancer treatment- at least locally. If you were lucky enough to meet Shirley Howard, you’d know that once she was passionate about something, she would never give up. Izzy Cohen, then President of Giant Food, once said to his secretary, “Is that Shirley on the phone? Give her what she wants. She’s going to get it anyway.”

Shirley met with the President of Johns Hopkins with ideas for treatment facilities for pediatric cancer patients. “Legend” is that the Johns Hopkins President was no-nonsense and not easily charmed. He listened to her ideas but said there was no money to build a pediatric facility. By the time Shirley left that meeting there was an agreement that if the Variety Club raised the funds, Johns Hopkins would commit to the new pediatric facility.

Shirley Howard with Giant Food Triple Winner Ambassadors

For several years, Shirley spearheaded the Variety Club’s efforts to raise funds for a Pediatric Cancer Wing at Johns Hopkins. They held the first telethon in Baltimore history. The emcee for the telethons for several years was Monty Hall of Let’s Make a Deal fame. Monty and Shirley (he called her his sister) remained friends throughout her life.

Through the telethon’s annual Celebrity Ball with stars from TV and the stage, Shirley raised the funding for the first Pediatric Oncology Treatment Center in the region at Johns Hopkins. The colorful child-friendly unit became a model for pediatric cancer facilities across the country.

By 1982, the Variety Club changed officers and direction, and no longer wanted to fund pediatric oncology.


This is not where the story ends. In 1983, Shirley and several parents of children being treated at Johns Hopkins, incorporated as The Children’s Cancer Foundation Inc. (CCF). Shirley was the President, with headquarters at Shirley’s business, and then at her home in Owings Mills. Hopkins parents, like Audrey and Bernie Shanahan, became CCF Board Members and Officers.

Plaque in honor of Shirley at University of Maryland Hospital for Children

CCF funded the Pediatric Cancer Inpatient Facility at Johns Hopkins. Both the Children’s Cancer Foundation’s Johns Hopkins Pediatric Outpatient and Inpatient units now occupy a full floor at the Johns Hopkins hospital. These bright, child-friendly facilities serve children with cancer. There are games, movies, and places for parents and kids to gather and talk. Child Life Specialists in inpatient and outpatient facilities work with kids who are there for treatments or hospitalized.

In addition to Johns Hopkins, CCF-funded facilities at the University of Maryland Hospital and Sinai Hospital in Baltimore as well as Children’s Hospital, Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C., and The Children’s Inn in Bethesda, MD.

The CCF Mission

Shirley at Children’s Ball circa 2005

More needed to be done. It was not enough to treat children once they had cancer. CCF became the prime local funder for pediatric cancer research in the region, providing grant funding to researchers at Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland and Sinai Hospitals in Baltimore, Children’s National and Georgetown University Hospitals in Washington, DC and NIH in Bethesda.

CCF provided critical start-up funds for researchers in order to achieve data to apply for national grants. Historically, some of these CCF funded researchers and institutions are listed here.


From the 2013 CCF Gala, President Diane Perry presents a check to Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center Director Louis Weiner, MD and Jeffrey Tortesky, MD. Board Chair Jerry Chadwick at right.

Shirley’s daughter, Diane Perry, who served as CCF’s Executive Director from 2008-2014, notes that she is “proud of the legacy of Shirley and CCF and knows that the mission is still relevant today. Sadly, kids facing cancer are battling with as many unknowns and side effects as they were 40 years ago.”

Diane, a cancer survivor herself, is grateful that CCF “continues to flourish and serve the local community”. A great example is the CCF Giant Food NextGen Award, established in 2013. With the support of Giant Food, the NextGen Award funds a promising young researcher with a $100,000 grant to advance their research.

Although much has been accomplished, there is still so much more to do.

40 years ago, one out of ten children survived a diagnosis of cancer. Today, that number is closer to eight out of ten, but for the parents of those two children, it’s not good enough. Additionally, survivors deal daily with the long-term effects of complications from their treatments.

Childhood Cancer only receives 4% of Cancer Research Funds.

Shirley, Peter and survivors at the Children’s Ball circa 2009

In 2022, CCF’s mission remains as relevant and meaningful today as it did in 1983.

Speaking with Diane was a humble reminder that we still have work to do. Losing a child to cancer is not acceptable.  As President of CCF since 2015, I am humbled to continue the legacy of Shirley Howard on behalf of all kids with cancer and their families who have to battle this vicious disease. With your help, until every child diagnosed with cancer is assured a healthy future, CCF remains united, committed, and determined.



In partnership,

Tasha Museles
The Children’s Cancer Foundation, Inc.

Share This Story