By now, everyone knows that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. We’ve all seen the gold ribbons, the pictures and stories of kids battling cancer, and followed their videos on YouTube.
Some of you might even know that today, September 13, is officially “Childhood Cancer Awareness Day.” Maybe you’ve made a donation to Cure Search, held an Alex’s Lemonade Stand, or shaved your head for St. Baldrick’s. Maybe you’ve sponsored a child for Make-A-Wish or run in a “race for the cure.”
As parents of children with cancer, we appreciate that. We really do. Thank you.
Maybe you will think about childhood cancer past today. Maybe you will even think about it past this month. Maybe you will think about the 43 children who will be diagnosed with cancer each day. Maybe the nearly 15,700 children who will be diagnosed this year will be on your mind. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers and especially the times that you can help us when we need it.
But for us, cancer lasts much longer than just one day or one month. It lasts a lifetime.
You see, childhood cancer stole many of our precious memories. It stole the first day of school because our child was in the hospital. It ruined picture day because our daughter didn’t want to wear something on her head to hide her baldness, so she didn’t get her picture taken at all that year.
There are no Little League trophies or tiny medals from micro soccer because our child was too sick to participate.
Our pictures of “fun outings” were all taken inside a hospital – the day the therapy dogs came or the clowns visited from the circus or the astronaut was there handing out photographs. Our pictures are filled with a child we barely recognize – bald and bloated, pale with dark-rimmed eyes.
We’ve been to Disneyland and have the pictures to prove it; but the smiles are weak and the memories are clouded by the reason that brought us there.
For those of us who have a child with one of the “curable” cancers, life doesn’t really go back to normal. You see, we’re constantly in fear of a recurrence. We’re wondering if our child will be one of the 60% of childhood cancer survivors who suffer late-effects, such as infertility, heart failure, and secondary cancers. All we want is for the nightmare to be over, but we can’t help wondering if it ever really will be.
If our child was the one in eight whose cancer was terminal, the cancer definitely did not end with our child’s death. Cancer will always be the thief who robbed us of our child’s life. It didn’t just taint the memories; it stole them before we even had a chance to make them.
There is no baseball when he feels better.
There are no more school pictures past the last one.
There’s no getting to know her friends and planning sleepovers. No helping with homework or practicing spelling words.
There’s no first day of high school jitters, or homecoming court, or senior prom pictures to share on Facebook.
No college visits, no proud but tearful good-bye on campus.
No weddings, no grandbabies, no adult child’s success to brag about to our friends.
We will always be the mom who lost her child to cancer. The mom who wonders “what if” and “I wonder what he would be like?” The mom whose arms ache from the desire to hold her one more time, whose eyes blur trying to see his face, and ears strain trying to hear his laugh.
It never goes away, this cancer that did this to us, to our family, and to our child. Childhood cancer awareness is every day for us, just like millions of other people fighting disease and mourning the loss of loved ones.
So thank you. Thank you for honoring these days and months that are set aside for awareness and action. Thank you for opening your hearts and wallets to give prayers and money. Thank you for shaving your heads, strapping on your running shoes, and sitting in the heat to sell lemonade. Thank you for acknowledging what we are going through. Thank you for taking the time to figure out how you can help.
It makes the other 364 days of the year a little better for us.
Here are some more tips for helping a family whose child has been diagnosed with cancer.
Want to donate time or money to the cause? Read these tips before doing so.
Here are some places you can donate.