It is so hard to believe that twelve years ago we entered this club no one ever looks to join. The “Childhood Cancer Affected Us Club” is definitely not something I would seek out, but I’m thankful for all at the same time.
Twelve years? Has it been so long since that life changing day in August of 2001? Really?
Eleven years of cancer-free years. I’m so grateful. I’m grateful for what my son taught me, cancer gave to me, but mostly I’m grateful that his was very treatable. I know many are not so blessed, and my heart cries out for all of those sweet angels on the other side of the veil between worlds and their families.
Cancer does not care about age, religion, nationality, skin colour, socio-economic status. No one is immune, it can happen at any time and to any person.
A life-changing telephone call. A doctor’s visit that takes a rather sudden detour. It doesn’t matter how you find out, it is a life-changing moment.
Pediatric Cancer is the #1 cause of death by disease for children. That’s right. More than cystic fibrosis. More than Aids. More than heart disease.
Each year, in America, approximately 13,400 children will get that life-changing news. The statistics by gender: 1 in 300 boys and 1 in 333 girls develop cancer by their 20th birthday. In 1998, about 2500 lost the battle for their lives. Remember, my son’s diagnosis came just three years later.
Almost worse than the disease is the cure. The things we cancer moms don’t talk about – the damage to vital organs, to muscular or skeletal or nerve systems, development of sensitivities to medications and latex, alterations to growth, the chance of infertility, and the biggest elephant in the room: The chance of another cancer.
These are things we deal with worrying about every day as we watch doctors administer medication that makes our children so tired they can hardly play in their hospital bed, weakens immune systems to the point where small infections become a major war, and blood draws become so commonplace your child doesn’t even look up anymore when someone with a needle comes in a room.
Caramon is nearing 17 years of age. He’s still just a hair shorter than me at my way tall five foot four self. Many think he is younger at first glance. He has a latex sensitivity, he gets migraines, his lungs protest air that’s not at 100%, he deals with aches and pains from things that should be “normal”. The good news is he likes to whine real loud when he’s not feeling good or gets hurt, but he bounces back pretty fast. Our joke is that perhaps the radiation gave him mutant Wolverine like healing powers.
You need to laugh when you can. It’s the best medicine of all.
Here’s the most disturbing aspect of Childhood Cancer: It gets a low amount of funding. Supporting organizations like St Jude’s, Candlelighter’s, andSt Baldrick’s is of vital importance. The National Cancer Institute grants far more funding to breast cancer. The DoD donates to breast cancer research. The Federal Government assists in breast cancer research as well. In 2009, federal cancer funding in general was approximately $5.6 billion according to the NIH. For perspective purposes, in 2007, the NIH claims $180 million went to childhood cancer research while approximately $843 million went to breast cancer research.
I’m grateful for the Children’s Hospital network. (St. Jude’s is the most well-known of these in regards to pediatric cancer.) Lucky for us we lived close to our local Children’s Hospital because there is truly no better place to go for care. They don’t turn patients away and they do an incredible amount of research. Some of that $180 million federal dollars goes to researchers in this network. It is their diligence in research that saves lives of children on a daily basis.
Every September I write about this. This year is an even bigger year for us than ever. It’s the last “official” year of “childhood”. In a little over a month my son turns 17. It’s a lot of buckling down and testing for college. He’s working on his license and wrapping up some AP classwork for testing. Also for him, it means mission prep. He’s eager to serve, but he’s even more eager to earn money to help pay for that two-year mission he can put papers in for as early as April. That’s the same month we received his “All Clear” from his cancer. I am hoping that he might just inch taller than me by the time he submits mission papers.
I reflect in September on where we’ve been and where we are. It is amazing to me that this young man battled for his life at such a young age. It is no surprise to me that he’s grown into a compassionate person that sometimes jokes a little too much but cracks down when things get real. He was a miracle at birth, but he’s grown into one of my biggest heroes.