Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month

Heather Callahan-Stevens

September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. Here is a picture of the gold ribbon pin I wore (and still wear sometimes) in honor of my nephew who fought kidney cancer when he was a toddler.

My heart goes out to every patient, every sibling, every parent, and every loved one who goes through that terrifying, unrelenting trial that is battling cancer.

I’ll never forget the hospital, and walking past the hospice unit every day. The painful treatments that my nephew didn’t always understand because he was so young, the shots that my needlephobic sister and brother-in-law had to learn to administer. Timing visits home to “good” white blood cell counts so that we wouldn’t overwhelm his fragile immune system.

My nephew was a Make A Wish kid. He wanted to go to Disney World. Many, many grownups put together fundraisers and organized that trip for him, so that he could visit two magical places: Disney World and Give Kids the World. If you haven’t heard about that second one, definitely do a google search. That place is truly inspiring.

My nephew’s cancer, Wilms tumor, took his kidney and had spread to his lungs by the time it was discovered. His prognosis was dismal until his oncologist discovered a prepublication study from St. Jude’s that had drastically increased his chances for survival. It included radiation and a combination of chemotherapy drugs, administered in rounds to keep changing up on the cancer.

The chemo treatment regime could only last a certain amount of time, because it was very aggressive. As the last few rounds were ending, scans showed two spots remaining on his lungs. The doctors did not want to leave any cancer anywhere, but the spots were in a place that was too risky to operate. My sister and her husband were starting to consult with other doctors to look for options, when three days before Christmas, and a few days after the last chemo treatment, the last scans showed that the spots were gone. We’ve never had a better Christmas present.

My nephew isn’t unaffected by his battle with cancer. He still has regular scans to watch for the effects of the aggressive course of treatment. But he has passed his five-year mark; he is formally a cancer survivor. And we are so grateful; even as we remember the friends he made who didn’t.

Childhood cancer is one of the most unfair things in the world. Those kids go through long, painful, brutal treatments. Some of them, like my nephew, are too young to understand why. Their families are beside themselves with worry and guilt and grief, and somehow have to hold it together for themselves and their patients and their jobs (with the health insurance) and any siblings that are involved. It’s exhausting and unrelenting and even if you do everything right, there is still no guarantee that you will get your happy ending.

Please remember the children who are struggling to get better, and the grownups who are fighting with them and for them. Also the organizations who work to help these families, from Make A Wish to Give Kids The World to Hats For Heroes, part of the Blue Jackets Foundation who gave my nephew the chance to drop the puck at an NHL game. 🙂