Deep inside, I knew what it was going to take to get people talking about childhood cancer. I didn’t like to say it out loud because I wouldn’t wish this on ANYONE, even a stranger. But I knew. The child of a celebrity, be it in the sports industry or the entertainment business, or what have you, was going to get diagnosed, and that would jumpstart things. Our voices, the voices of the survivors, parents, and other advocates, are not loud enough or important enough to get heard. I mean, seriously, we have been screaming ourselves hoarse and still not being heard.
My heart broke yet again when I heard that the Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still’s 4 year old daughter Leah had been diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma. Another cute little munchkin thrown into this horrible world of childhood cancer. Her daddy is her voice, just as countless of other parents have been and continue to be their children’s voices. If parents don’t speak up, who will? Who will fight for these kids?
As it is, childhood cancer awareness is on the rise. A few weeks ago, Hoda Kotb released a music video with Sara Barielles and Cyndi Lauper, doing a mashup of Lauper’s True Colors and Barielles’ Brave called Truly Brave featuring young cancer patients from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
In March 2007, Hoda Kotb underwent a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery for breast cancer, and has since been a breast cancer advocate and activist. This makes it even more amazing that she has taken an interest in kids with cancer and has since learned that pediatric cancer is grossly underfunded. She isn’t the only breast cancer survivor speaking up, though. Hoda was just using her position at the Today show to bring awareness and to raise funds for pediatric cancer research. And she did! This childhood cancer survivor and advocate is so very grateful for people like Hoda Kotb who bring awareness to childhood cancer because it’s the right thing to do and because she saw a need that wasn’t being fulfilled. Words can’t express how my heart soared when I watched the video for the first time, or the second time, or the third. Yes, I cried too, but my tears were happy ones. Finally. Finally we are getting somewhere.
This is my plea to people with power and position: Please don’t drop the ball. Childhood cancer is a problem that needs to be addressed daily. It needs to be addressed until it is no longer a problem. I do realize that this is asking a lot, but look at it this way. If you have children, if you love any children at all, you would do this for them. You would speak up for them, and help them get the awareness, the action, the funding, and the cures they need desperately. There is one pediatric brain cancer that is terminal upon diagnosis, and researchers have said if they can find the cure for that, it could lead to other cancer cures, including for adult cancers! It is simple. Advocate. Be a voice for the babies who need you. Fight for them. Don’t just be a childhood cancer advocate – be a childhood cancer activist.
Devon Still has said there has to be a reason why he and Leah have been thrown into this fight. He said he had a vision when he first decided to make Leah’s story public – he wanted to bring as much awareness as possible to pediatric cancer. When his team heard the news of his daughter’s diagnosis, despite having released Still during preseason, they signed him to the practice squad. This let Still focus on Leah, and also let him keep access to the NFL health insurance plan to cover Leah’s treatments. He has now returned to the regular roster, and the team has decided to donate all the profits from the sale of his #75 jersey to pediatric cancer research. To date, sales have reached the $1 million mark and counting!
As for Leah herself, she has had surgery and they have removed all of the tumor. While not quite cancer free yet, she is well on her way!