How a Spoonful of Hot Mustard Can Help Kids With Cancer

Eating a spoonful of spicy mustard can help raise awareness and research funding for pediatric brain cancer.
Courtesy of the Summy Family

What does one of America’s most beloved condiments have to do with pediatric brain cancer? Simply eating a spoonful of the spicy variety can help raise awareness and research funding for this most common childhood cancer. That’s the basic premise of the Mustard Challenge, which was launched this spring by nonprofits No More Kids with Cancer (NMKwC) and Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C). The challenge, which ends on October 1, honors Naya Summy, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 11 after a two-year battle with high-risk medulloblastoma (brain cancer). While she was alive, Naya raised nearly $500,000 for pediatric cancer, asking her parents to continue her efforts in finding a cure if she didn’t make it.

Courtesy of the Summy family

While the Summy’s chose to fulfil their daughter’s wishes through this challenge, they didn’t pick mustard because it was Naya’s favorite condiment. “We discovered that the drugs kids—including my daughter—are often treated with are derived from the same compounds found in mustard gas, an agent used in WWI and WWII,” says Amy Summy, Naya’s mother and co-founder (along with her husband, Hank) of NMKwC. Amy hopes that the Mustard Challenge will educate people about the need for new, less-toxic, and more effective therapies for pediatric cancer patients. 

Courtesy of the Summy family

As for why the couple chose spicy mustard: “We wanted to create a bit of a competition and fun,” says Amy. You can even earn a bravery level “badge” based on how spicy you go. For example, if you choose Dijon mustard, you’re “spunky”, while hot mustard is “heroic”, and wasabi mustard will earn you the highest medal of honor: “reckless.” Find all of the badges at www.nomorekidswithcancer.org.

To take the challenge, follow these steps:

  1. Use your phone or camera to record yourself saying “Hi, this is my mustard challenge to end childhood cancer. I'm taking the challenge and donating to raise funds for cancer research."
  2. Eat (or smear, throw, squirt, etc.) a spoonful of mustard.
  3. Say "I challenge friends (say four friends’ names) to do the challenge and make a donation at www.mustardchallenge.com."
  4. If you can, donate to No More Kids with Cancer via www.mustardchallenge.com (every dollar counts!).
  5. Share your video on social media using the hashtags #MustardChallenge and tag the four people you nominated. 

All proceeds will go towards pediatric cancer research, and the first $6 million raised, which Su2C has vowed to match, will fund a new Pediatric Brain Cancer Dream Team comprised of top researchers in the field. “The group will submit ideas for a cancer research project that addresses critical problems in pediatric brain cancer. After a rigorous peer review process and in-person selection meeting, the most promising proposal will be funded,” says Sung Poblete, Ph.D., R.N., the president and CEO of SU2C. 

While everyone is encouraged to get involved in the challenge, we recommend leaving the consumption of mustard up to non-allergic adults. Safe and fun alternatives for kids and those with mustard sensitivities include filming yourself squirting and playing with the condiment, or swapping mustard with another food in your kitchen that requires courage to eat. This might be the perfect opportunity to challenge your child to try another bite of something healthy he despises, like broccoli, onions, or salmon. He may be open to giving the food one more chance if you explain that his bravery can ultimately save other kids’ lives.

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