It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: your child gets a bump, a bruise, or has a pain that doesn’t go away. You’re sure that it can’t be serious, but in the back of your head you wonder. What if this time it’s more than growing pains, a simple headache, or general fussiness? After several doctor’s appointments, you hear those four dreaded words: “Your child has cancer.”
For too many families, this nightmare is a reality. One in 285 children is diagnosed with cancer by age 20. Parents are left frightened by questions of whether their children will live to see their next birthday. Will they make it to kindergarten or high school graduation? If they do live, will they suffer from significant long-term effects? Shaun, whose son had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, expressed what many parents feel by calling the diagnosis “an unreal whirlwind.”
It’s easy for the rest of us to feel like there’s not much we can do. After all, we don’t have the cure for cancer in our back pocket. But the families affected by childhood cancer see things much differently. They not only see ways for us to help, but they believe that we can truly save lives. Here’s how:
Childhood cancer changes the context behind community blood drives and phone calls from donation centers. When your child has cancer, blood donations shift from being nice in theory to immediately pressing. Most types of cancer require blood and platelets transfusions, either from the cancer itself or from the accompanying treatments. Blood donors may only take a few hours out of their day, but they can literally infuse health into the veins of sick children.
Ruth Grace relied on many blood and platelet transfusions during her intense chemotherapy treatments. Her body became too weak to make healthy blood cells on its own, and she was left in a life-threatening situation. Blood transfusions saved her. Her mother is forever grateful for blood donors, saying, “Thank you for saving my baby’s life. Without you my daughter would not be here today. Your donations meant that our daughter had the opportunity to see her ninth birthday.”
Ruth Grace, from Manchester, UK, diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age 8.
Sign up for the bone marrow donor registry
For some kids, including many with leukemia or lymphoma, a bone marrow transplant is their only hope for survival. This often means relying on the kindness and health of strangers. By joining the registry at BeTheMatch.org, you have the potential to literally save a life. The process is free and simple: request a kit, check your mail, swab your cheek, and send it back. If you are ever matched to a patient, the donation only requires a simple procedure and a short recovery.
Kaylen is alive today thanks to a donor on the other side of the world. He and his family are deeply grateful for his donor as well as everyone who signs up for the registry. His mom says, “thank you so much from the bottom of my heart… because of you I have my son.” Kaylen encourages all to “please consider signing up to be a donor… children and adults like me who don’t have a match in our family depend on total strangers who could save our lives.”
Kaylen, from New Hampshire, diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at age 10.
Help a family directly
When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it quickly becomes the family’s biggest focus. Their schedule is filled with tests, appointments, and treatments. They rarely get a chance to cook a meal or clean their home. Frequently, one parent needs to take a leave of absence at work or even quit their job to care for their child. If they have other children, they need to find childcare while they spend time at the hospital. Support from family and friends is crucial as it enables their children to get the medical care that they need.
Friends and family stepped up to care for Marlee’s siblings when she was in the hospital, and her mom said it was “such a life-saver.” She also recommends giving gift cards for gas or meals. She says, “Clean their homes. Make them freezer meals for their families back at home. Soap, toothbrush, snacks, lotion, hairbrush, etc. These things are invaluable to families who may live far from their hospital.”
Marlee, from Arkansas, diagnosed with nephroblastoma (Wilm’s tumor) at 9 months.
Support the cause
Childhood cancer is devastating to a family physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. There is a huge need for more research and better treatments, as well as better quality of life for the patient and family. By attending an event or donating to a fundraiser, you can bring hope to children and parents across the world. You can fund groundbreaking research, provide financial support for patients, or send kids on the trip of a lifetime. The hope and strength given to families, along with the advancement of medicine, is truly life-saving.
Simon’s community in Utah hosted a fun family event to raise money for his cancer treatments. The family is also passionate about childhood cancer research. Simon’s mom said the love and support was “very humbling” and enabled them to get through tough days. She encourages all to “help however you can! Nothing is too small.”
Simon, from Utah, diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma at age 4.
Because there is no routine screening for childhood cancer, early detection is key. For some, the first symptom of cancer is a growing bump. For others, it’s pain, easy bruising, headaches, paleness, or loss of energy. Spreading childhood cancer awareness saves lives by teaching parents to pay attention to their children’s bodies. It also invites more support for research to advance treatments for children. Simply sharing the message with friends on social media and in real life could save a child’s life.
After Elizabeth’s cancer treatment, she began assembling makeup bags for teenage girls with cancer. She is passionate about helping children with cancer and promoting awareness for the cause. She says, “By spreading more awareness we can get that much closer to finding better treatments… My purpose in life is to be someone who helps make a difference in others’ lives as well as fighting for a cure.”
Elizabeth, from Arizona, diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma at age 13.
Please, take the time to help save a child’s life for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month this September. Children across the world are counting on us. Share the message on social media and become an advocate for the cause. You never know which child will be next, and our children’s lives are worth everything.