You probably won’t finish reading this post.
How do I know? Because in the year since we’ve been writing this blog (yes, it was our blog birthday yesterday!), I’ve learned two things. I’d like to think I’ve learned more than two, but these are the ones that are relevant today:
- September is childhood cancer awareness month
- People really don’t want to talk about it
You may think I’m being cynical, but it’s true. I’ve heard many parents of kids with cancer express their frustration that the month of September simply gets overlooked.
In the world of health awareness and charitable causes, childhood cancer is overshadowed. During the month of October, pink ribbons are draped over anything that will stand still, and we all know that it represents the fight against breast cancer. In February women wear red dresses, and nationally as well as locally, we talk a lot about heart health.
Don’t get me wrong; those (along with many others) are wonderful causes. They are worthy of the time, effort, money, and love that caring people put into them. But those whose children have suffered from cancer sometimes wonder: if this disease is so terrible and it affects so many children, why aren’t we talking about it?
How many gold ribbons have you seen this month to remind you of childhood cancer?
Did you know that cancer is the number one disease killer of children?
Probably not. But, I think I know why we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about it because it scares the living daylights out of us. The very idea that it could happen to my child, to my family is more than we can bear. It’s an unbelievably heart-wrenching thought: caring for your child as they suffer and knowing that you are powerless to take away their pain. But, for some it is their reality; it’s the hand they were dealt.
Childhood cancer takes all of our worst fears as parents, wraps it up in a nice little package of hell on earth, and hands it to us with no apologies. And it does so with no warning, no rhyme or reason, and no explanation. It feels utterly random, and maybe that’s what makes it feel so unsafe for us to talk about. Because the little girl who’s getting chemo today was playing on the playground last week, and her parents thought she was completely healthy. And last week, the little boy who’s being wheeled into surgery today thought that he just had a tummy ache, not a tumor.
They never thought it would be them just like we think it could never be us. Except, deep down in our heart of hearts we know that it could be us, too. And I wonder, what would happen if instead of running from that reality, we chose to embrace it?
The children who I’ve known who have suffered with this terrible disease have dramatically changed my life for the better. Some of them I never even knew in person.
I knew Ben and Ellie only through a blog; I read as their stories unfolded, but I loved them as if I knew them. Haley, Tyler, and Maleah I’ve known as survivors. It’s hard to believe that these vibrant kids are the same ones I see in photos looking pale and gaunt as they received their treatment. Kyle I know through his mom, Molly, who has helped me see what it is really like for families who walk through this fire. And, Joseph, whose sweet face still smiles at me from the photograph on my refrigerator door, I knew in life and in death.
Each of these angels has brought something special to my life. Part of them still lives with me and reminds me how precious my time is with my little one. I can’t control or predict what will happen to her or to me, but I know that the most important thing is to live each moment to the fullest. Dr. Joseph taught me that.
As I sat in the church one year ago at Joseph’s funeral, I laughed through tears as those who knew him told stories describing his feisty little personality. He was funny and precocious and braver than anyone I’ve known. And I couldn’t help but think that no one, no one, should ever have to go to an 8-year-old’s funeral.
This month, let’s show the families who’ve been affected by childhood cancer that we care deeply, that their struggle matters to us. If you know one of these families, make them dinner, mow their lawn or leave a card on their doorstep. Wear a gold ribbon that says to the world, “I care.” Make a donation or raise money that will go toward research to cure this disease that steals our little ones too soon.
Caring may look different for each of us, but let’s be brave together.
* Join with us in celebration today as Mayor Buddy Dyer issues a proclamation that September is Golden in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in Orlando. Wear your gold ribbon to show your support!