“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray, you’ll never know, dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.”
My mother sang these very words to me when I was a baby and had neuroblastoma, one of the most common and often the most deadly pediatric cancers. After 2 major surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, but before the treatment protocol was even done, I came down with a viral infection that attacked and damaged my brain stem, leaving me with physical disabilities not unlike cerebral palsy, hearing loss, and a speech impairment. I was basically an infant again at 3 years of age, and with my new baby brother, I relearned how to do everything. Today, at 30 years of age, I am independent as much as possible, but I still live with my parents. I have a B.A in English, and I am an aspiring novelist. What do I want to write about? You’ve got it – childhood cancer.
There was a little girl I was friends with in the hospital. Her name was Missy, and she had leukemia. The nurses called us “The Smiley Sisters” because when we were together, we always smiled. It’s sad because I don’t have a picture of Missy’s beautiful smile. Instead, the one picture my mom has of us together shows us in hospital pajamas, clutching hands, and wearing serious expressions on our faces. Missy died not long after that picture was taken. And you already know what happened to me.
Pediatric cancer is relentless even today. Every single day, 46 children are diagnosed, and every single day, 7 more of them die from this monster. Try explaining cancer to children who are losing or have lost a friend, sibling, or cousin to cancer. How do we explain that we, as adults, cannot make it better, at least not by ourselves? We have to unite to fight this monster called pediatric cancer. We cannot protect children from pain, either physical pain or emotional pain, but it is high time that we stand up to cancer and decide that we are going to do and be more to save the children. Children are, after all, the future, and everyday, the future is dying.
Ronan Thompson was the first child whose journey I started following early last year. He had been diagnosed in August 2010 with neuroblastoma stage four. I think if we want to nip childhood cancer in the bud, then we need to start screening for it, at pediatric appointments. The reason why neuroblastoma is so deadly is because it often isn’t diagnosed until the late stages, when it has already spread. Sadly, Ronan passed away a few months after I first started following him. Have you heard of Maya Thompson? I wouldn’t be surprised if you have. She is Ronan’s mother and the author of a blog that she kept for Ronan when he was sick, and after he died, she started writing letters to him. She’s determined to change things in his name, and I believe she will. And I’m going to help her. Maya Thompson has an army behind her, as do the Kaufmans, who lost their two year old son RJ to the same cancer this past February.
Can you imagine outliving your child? It isn’t natural, but it is a reality for hundreds upon thousands of parents out there. It is a reality for my friend Missy’s parents. It is a reality for Maya and Woody Thompson and Rodney and KelliJo Kaufman. Stand up with me and my family and friends and the other survivors, the parents, the siblings, and the littlest patients as we fight for a cure. We all look forward to a day when cancer is nothing more than a zodiac sign.
It is my prayer that you will help lead the way for more childhood cancer awareness in this country and join us in the fight for more funding for research. Awareness plus funding equals research, and more research will lead to cures. Please, if you are not convinced by now, won’t you go visit the pediatric ward at your local hospital? See the smiles and joy of children unaware that their lives are at stake, and see the tears of the parents who are being told that there is nothing else to be done for their little one. Please help us. Thank you for reading this.