Everywhere we look we see superheroes in bright capes with stories of conquering the enemy. However, I have had the honor of working with “real” superheroes, children who are fighting the battle known as cancer.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and all month our pediatric oncology teams at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo proudly wear gold. We wear it in honor of those currently in the fight, and for those fortunate to have achieved a cure. And we wear it in memory of those who have lost their battle, their strength and courage never to be forgotten. Every superhero finds a special place in our hearts.
Having childhood cancer means you never let your guard down. You must always be watching out for the “bad guys,” meaning everything cancer treatment brings: chemotherapy, painful procedures, radiation treatments or surgeries. It often means missing school or time with friends because the enemy is getting tougher, bringing on fevers, a need for transfusions or a relapse requiring stronger treatment. Treatment can last anywhere from a few months to years; a huge part of a young child’s life robbed by the enemy. Yet these children step up, and bravely take on the fight.
Children with cancer grow up fast as they walk the necessary road to achieve a cure. Resilience is key for these little superheroes. Kryptonite has no power here. They take a deep breath and raise their heads high, and prepare for the fight. They learn to adjust to life with cancer. Despite bald heads, nausea and fatigue, their spirit shines through. They inspire each and every one of us as they face the terrifying archenemy, cancer.
Working with these children is an honor, a privilege, an opportunity to learn much about what is important in life. As we watch these children battle with all that seems unfair, we realize that each child is a special gift that helps us keep our own life in perspective.
From them we learn acceptance of all that a cancer diagnosis brings. We learn patience and perseverance as we watch the dignity with which they fight the battle. We learn to laugh and appreciate humor despite adversity. These superheroes teach us how to reach down deep and find determination and strength that we never thought possible. And, most importantly, they teach us to never give up the fight.
Parents are the silent superheroes, the ones behind these children with all the love and support a family can bring. They are the ultimate shield. They question, they research and they pray. I’ve never met parents who didn’t wish they could trade places with their child, and take on the fight for them. They are the superpowers, the reason these children have faith, maintain their hope and keep up the fight.
Cancer is the No. 1 cause of death by disease in children. About 80 percent of our pediatric patients will appreciate a cure at the end of treatment. But that statistic leaves far too many children who will lose their battle. Parents are left with a huge hole in their hearts, and in their families. We try to comfort them, but there are often no words. These parents are the silent superheroes, continuing to live in their child’s honor. These children will forever be our inspiration to continue research to assure a cure for every child.
This month, please honor our superheroes. Wear gold to show appreciation for how they inspire us, for what they teach us about life. And encourage them to keep fighting the “bad guys.”