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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, April 21, 2014

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In Kids & Family

Jo Ann Thrailkill is dedicated to fighting childhood cancer with love.

Pablove co-founder channels loss into hope


Jo Ann Thrailkill is the executive director and co-founder of the Pablove Foundation, an organization that funds pediatric cancer research and advances in treatment, educates and empowers cancer families and improves the quality of life for children living with cancer through hospital play, music and arts programs.

Thraillkill was born and raised in New Orleans – and today she lives in Los Angeles – but she has made and kept Milwaukee connections for a long time.

Her husband, Jeff Castelaz, who is the current president of Elektra Records, was born and raised in Milwaukee.

In 2003, the couple had a son, Pablo, who, at the age of six, lost a valiant, year-long battle with bilateral Wilms Tumor, a rare form of childhood cancer.

Thrailkill and Castelaz went on to start the Pablove Foundation. In the last three years, the foundation has provided research grants totaling $600,000 in funding for innovative research projects.

The Pablove Foundation has regular fundraising events in Milwaukee – as well as around the United States – and will have its fifth annual benefit concert at Turner Hall on Saturday, Jan. 18.

The event will feature the Benjamins, Alligator Gun and Subside. The cost is $15 for adults and $10 for kids.

"We are so grateful for the love and support Milwaukee has always given us. I wish I could make this year's show in person – it's a pop-punk reunion dream," says Thrailkill.

We recently caught up with Thrailkill and talked about Pablo, Pablove and the lack of great Sazeracs outside of New Orleans.

OMC: How did you meet your husband, Jeff, considering you were in New Orleans and he was in Milwaukee?

JT: I first "met" him over the phone. He was still living in Milwaukee and managing Citizen King in the '90s and I was the executive producer of a music video for the band. I was unable to come to Milwaukee for the shoot so we talked over the phone instead.

A couple of years later, after he had moved to Los Angeles full-time, we ran into each other on another music video for a different band he was managing. We were friends first. I was always trying to set him up on dates.

One day he finally worked up the courage to ask me out and the rest is history. We eloped to Big Sur with our kids and are going on our 10-year anniversary next month.

OMC: The Pablove Foundation has other Milwaukee connections, too, right?

JT: Yes, Pablove's community affairs director, Megan McMillan, grew up in Germantown and operations manager Megan Berardi taught at Pius High School through a service learning program after college.

Pablove has also funded research at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin / Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Monica Thakar is instituting a clinical trial there right now that we funded. It is a very promising project that we are honored and proud to support it.

OMC: When was Pablo diagnosed and with what form of cancer? How long did he fight cancer?

JT: Pablo was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 – on Jeff's birthday, actually. Jeff was getting Pablo ready for a birthday dinner out when he noticed a lump on his tummy. Four-year-old boys have bumps and bruises all the time, and he seemed in perfect health, so we could have never imagined what was about to hit us.

After an overnight in the Children's Hospital Los Angeles emergency room we heard the words no parent ever wants to hear: "your child has cancer." Pablo was diagnosed with bilateral Wilms Tumor, a very rare kidney cancer that mostly occurs in children under 6 years of age.

Bilateral means he had tumors on both kidneys. Although Wilms Tumor can have a very favorable prognosis under certain circumstances, Pablo's case was far from simple. He underwent radiation, chemotherapy – hellish for Grady (their older son), Jeff and I, but Pablo had a resiliency I could never begin to imitate.

Then he relapsed, and we were simply out of options. That's when Jeff and I knew that we needed to help move childhood cancer research forward. It's simply unacceptable to be faced with a cancer for which there are no treatment options at all, especially for kids who should have their whole lives ahead of them. Pablo battled for 13 months. He passed away six days after his sixth birthday.

OMC: How did you make it through such a difficult experience? Was there anything that you did to make it more bearable?

JT: It would be a lie to say I don't have bad days. What continues to get me through it: the love from our friends and community, taking good care of my body and soul through Bikram yoga, and knowing that I am making a difference for other families like mine through The Pablove Foundation.

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