It’s been a tough, heartbreaking six months for the Mike Hess family. Since the start of August 2018, the owner of one of San Diego’s most beloved breweries has been coping with his then 12-year-old daughter Keely’s diagnosis of osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer.
The brewers at Hess responded to the news by developing a specialty beer, Beet Cancer (made with beets), to raise funds to assist the family and their mounting bills. To inspire awareness about pediatric cancer, Mike decided to redirect the charitable money into research and its dire funding deficit.
PACIFIC recently spoke with Mike candidly about Keely and her diagnosis, the Beet Cancer brew, and how San Diegans can rise up together and help.
PACIFIC: How did you first discover your daughter Keely had developed cancer?
MIKE HESS: It was over the course of a few months before we got the diagnosis. She was a competitive dancer, and a lot of the girls developed aches and pains, but they came and went. This one in her knee persisted. Initially, she was able to manage it with kinetic tape. Finally we thought it was a growth plate issue, but she got an x-ray and it was negative.
By the end of July, we wanted to do a MRI with contrast. We were on the way to Mammoth, and got a call at 8 a.m. from her pediatrician wanting to admit Keely to get the MRI done. He said turn around. We went to the hospital and checked in. They took her down and did a MRI and cat scan with biopsy. That was on a Saturday. On Sunday we met with a surgeon at Rady Children’s. It was osteosarcoma, and had the appointment with the oncologist.
They told us it would be a rough year. One week later they started chemotherapy. From Friday turning around to 13 days later we were doing chemotherapy.
Are there warning signs parents should look out for?
Osteo is pretty rare, but look for persistent leg pain. For this type of disease that’s how it manifests. We thought her pain was because she was on a dance team. People ask this, but it’s not in the marrow, it’s the calcium in the bone overproducing bone tissue, and it weakens the bone. Some kids don’t know they have it until their legs snaps.
How is Keely doing?
She’s doing better on the back half of chemotherapy, due to her taking anti-nausea meds. From August to surgery November 1, she was violently ill the entire time. A week before the surgery they inserted a feeding tube, because she was down from 70 pounds to 57 pounds. Now she’s in the high 60s. She’s lost half of her leg to amputation. We all pray she will survive, she’s only done grade school and dancing. The effect of pediatric cancer is devastating.
How did you come up with the recipe for Beet Cancer?
I had almost nothing to do with it. Paul Deras, our lead brewer, Jason Stockberger and Dan Lawrence, they came up with it, they wanted to do a wit beer with a reddish tint. They said, “We want to do a fundraiser for your family.” Our bills are over $2 million so far. But I said, “We are missing the boat on pediatric cancer. It’s not huge numbers, but it has a devastating effect on families, let’s use it as an awareness tool so that people get the message.”
What's the flavor profile?
It’s a toned down, mellow Belgian wit. They used Belgian yeast, and also London yeast that we use on our hazy IPA to impart citrus. The esters aren’t overpowering, it’s light, sparkly, and the beets just give color.
Where is it poured and for how long?
At all of the Hess tasting rooms, and people can look on Taphunter. But we are going to raise money even when the beer is gone. We are talking to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, about doing a head shaving event. We also plan to form a 501C for the brewery so that people can do tax deductible donations.
How can locals help who don't drink or can't get by a location?
I would encourage people to donate. As a comparison, last year breast cancer raised around $6 billion versus pediatric at $400 million. It’s less than 4% of the federal cancer budget. Donate directly to The Pablove Foundation and The Truth 365 and St. Baldrick’s Foundation, and they can do that directly at the brewery. All that money funds specifically pediatric research.
Where is pediatric cancer research on this condition and where does it need to go?
There has not been one new drug in 30 years. There’s no experimental drugs or trials, there is nothing forthcoming or experimental. We just keep doing chemo hoping it is doing something. The tumor is removed, but the reason we don’t know more is because of lack of research. At 39 weeks, she’ll cross the finish line, we’ll do the scan, but the scan only goes so small. They’ll say you’re done, but you never have assurance.
What's a final word you want to say about cancer and your mission?
Everything we are doing is to let people know how many kids are affected by cancer, to get the word out for these osteosarcoma kids, and to find new cures.
Where to get it
Grab your pint of Beet Cancer before it’s gone (will run out in the next few weeks) and support pediatric cancer research at the following Mike Hess Brewing locations:
Miramar: 7955 Silverton Ave. #1201, .858.267.6378; North Park: 3812 Grim Ave., 619.255.7136; Ocean Beach: 4893 Voltaire St., 619.795.1095; mikehessbrewing.com