In September, staff members of Roswell Park’s Pediatric Department wear gold to celebrate our brave young heroes stricken with childhood cancer. We wear gold for all of the children who appreciate a cure and rebuild their lives after cancer. And we wear gold in memory of those who have lost their battles, whose strength and courage will never be forgotten.
September for kids with cancer means they may not return to school like other children due to the intense treatment they will have to undergo. One may miss kindergarten, another a senior year of high school, but either way it is a piece of their lives they will have to give up forever, to appreciate a cure.
Time in school is replaced by time in the hospital. Home tutors manage to help kids keep up their schoolwork in between chemotherapy, surgeries, transfusions, radiation treatments or unexpected admissions for fevers due to their fragile immune systems. Parents attempt to maintain normalcy, and reach deep to find the strength to balance family life and life with a child with cancer.
However, for these kids, resilience reigns, and tears dry quickly. They lift their chins and take on the fight. They learn to adjust to life with cancer and to manage the side effects of treatment. Despite bald heads, nausea, pain and fatigue, their smiles shine through. They have faith. And they are hope. And they never fail to inspire each and every one of us.
Having the opportunity to work with these children is an honor and a privilege. Our own problems suddenly seem very small as we watch them struggle with all that seems unfair.
Each child is a precious gift, providing us with many life lessons. Their innocence prevails and from them we learn acceptance of all the difficulties that being diagnosed with cancer brings.
We learn patience and trust, as they allow us into their lives to walk this difficult road with them. They teach us to smile, and appreciate humor in the face of adversity. They teach us how to find courage and strength one could never imagine was inside of them. And most importantly, they teach us determination, to never give up.
Cancer is the number one cause of death by disease in children. About 80 percent of our pediatric patients will celebrate the end of chemotherapy and the start of their lives getting back to normal. They come back to visit and keep us informed of their news, because we will forever be a part of their families.
However, 20 percent of our children continue to lose their battles with cancer. We struggle to make sense of it, but there is none to be found. We attempt to comfort parents who are left with empty, heavy hearts. These parents will spend the rest of their lives wondering what their child would be doing if he or she had only had the chance for a cure.
As a parent, I cannot even imagine their pain. These children will forever be our inspiration to continue research to find cures for these aggressive childhood cancers.
So this month, hug your children and grandchildren as they head off to school. And please join us as we wear gold for Childhood Cancer Month. Help us celebrate these very special kids who teach us how to appreciate life.