September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (CCAM). The National Pediatric Cancer Foundation (NPCF) notes that cancer is the number one cause of death in children. Every year 15,300 children are diagnosed with cancer. Since the 1980s fewer than 10 cancer suppressing drugs have been approved for use on children. As it happens I am very familiar with these facts for, in one day, my life was turned upside down.
On March 14, 2014, I was diagnosed with a Medulloblastoma, a cancerous brain tumor. At that moment in time, all I was thinking was: I’m going to die. I am an only child to the most amazing parents and I didn’t even want to imagine the pain they would face. I was determined not to contribute to another sad statistic. St. Baldrick’s says that one in five children diagnosed with cancer will not make it, and more than 99% of child survivors have chronic health problems. After six weeks of radiation, five days a week and dueling chemotherapy, I had already lost all of my hair and stopped wanting to eat.
I started losing weight at a drastic pace; that’s when the doctors really started to worry about me. I went on another couple of months fighting to keep my weight up but just couldn’t eat. Even when I did, I couldn’t keep it down. I had a feeding tube directly connected to my stomach to keep me alive because I was at 40 pounds after the first six months. I continued chemotherapy for another year. In that time, I had so many blood transfusions I can’t remember the exact number, and I learned that I was allergic to platelets. If the chemotherapy they gave me twice a week touched my skin it would burn completely through it, and wasn’t that fun for my veins?
My treatment continued to beat me down everyday and I ended up losing the only person I had communicated with throughout this whole process. He was diagnosed around the same time as me. His death hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. At that point, I shut myself off from the rest of the world. I didn’t want to watch another kid wither away as so many did in that office.
After my cancer treatment, I had time to really think about how I could make an impact and be a voice for the children who no longer have theirs. I started lobbying for childhood cancer treatments. What I learned when I started broke my heart.
The NPCF states that only 4% of the billions of dollars allocated for cancer research and treatment goes to fighting childhood cancer. Breast cancer alone gets more than 21% of the funding; that’s close to 6 times more than pediatric cancer receives. Since the 1980s, we have only had 5 drugs approved to be used on children while adults have hundreds that were created exclusively for their use.
Others have always asked me why it’s important to have a separate branch of study for children with cancer. Many don’t realize how harsh treatments affect children. For example, I have major balance issues, drop foot, hyperthyroidism and am unable to ever have children of my own. Saying I’m happy because I can’t have children is not a lie. I don’t think after seeing babies and young kids suffer, I could ever bring a child into this world knowing that I would not be able to stop this from happening to them.
However, I am not out of the woods yet. After I finished cancer treatment I was advised by my doctors to have a double mastectomy. CureSearch states that about 60% of children that survive will have late effects of cancer treatment such as infertility, heart failure and secondary cancers. Children are dying everyday and we need to see the severity of the issue.
I go GOLD for childhood cancer and I hope you will join me in this fight! The funding allocated to childhood cancer is only 4% of all available funds. I was only worth 4%.
By Hannah Brittain-Du Bois, Staff Writer