Because “Your Child Has Cancer” Are Words No Parent Should Have to Hear…

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I have a drawer full of baby teeth. Probably lots of moms do. But unlikely for the same reason I have them. I’m not keeping them for sentimental reasons. I was worried I might need them one day.  But as it turns out, they are useless. I read or heard something a few years ago that they could now collect stem cells from baby teeth. These stem cells could be lifesaving if one of my children was ever diagnosed with cancer. Seemed reasonable enough to me to keep the teeth “just in case.”

But… I probably should have done a little more research, because to collect the stem cells from baby teeth, you have to have a living tooth. IE, you have to have the tooth removed before it falls out on its own. So, essentially I have a drawer full of little baby teeth, from all three kids, for no reason. And a huge wish that I’ll never have a reason to ever need stem cells for my littles. 

I think we can agree, the idea of one of our children becoming sick is a fear that is often in the back of our subconscious. It comes rushing forward when someone we know is facing this situation, and we feel guilty when we think, thank God it isn’t my child.

38 Children Pass Away from Cancer Each Week

I have known three children that cancer took from us far too young. I watched how the cancer wore down their families, through the years of treatment and an ever persistent hope, until there was no more.

Rachel

My first experience was my mom’s cousin’s daughter. Rachel was diagnosed with a blood cancer at age 4. She went through ups and downs for four years before finally passing away at the age of 8. I was in my early 20s at the time. I had no children of my own yet, but I felt such a deep compassion for the family. I felt such a tremendous loss with her death. I have blogged about Rachel, thought about Rachel, even had her picture of her first communion as my desktop image for years. While she was sick, I hoped, prayed, and lit candles; as did all members of our family and Rachel’s family’s community. But it wasn’t enough. 

Calvin

Next came Calvin. Calvin was the infant son of a friend. They noticed things seemed off by the time he was 9-months-old. Over the course of a year, they tried every treatment that he could. But all of our hearts broke when he passed away at 16-months-old.

More children die of childhood cancer than any other disease in the United States—more than AIDS, asthma, cystic fibrosis, congenital anomalies and diabetes combined. – St. Baldrick’s Foundation

Layla

Then I met the incredible Sara Stamp, author of The Other “F” Word: When Faith Fills the Gap. I interviewed Sara on my podcast. She told me that not long after turning four-years-old, her daughter, Layla, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her symptoms: the occasional headache, vomiting, and some imbalance issues. They found out she had a large mass in the back of her neck.

During Layla’s treatment, Sara and her husband began raising awareness about brain tumors in children and cancer in children and they founded Layla’s Legacy, a nonprofit organization to raise awareness and funding for research. Their motto is: Because “Your child has cancer” are words no parent should ever have to hear.

During the time of our interview, Layla was doing well and they hoped she would recover. Sara and I became friends because of the podcast interview, and I followed Layla’s progress with the greatest of hopes that our sweet little Layla would make a full recovery. I watched as Layla seemed to decline, but kept faith that there would be a miracle. When I read the announcement on Facebook on November 11, 2017, that Layla had passed on, I sobbed for her as if I’d actually known her in real life.

But I did know her in real life.

Because Rachel, Calvin, and Layla are all of our children. They represent the possibility none of us want to acknowledge; the fear that we all have, that our child will be one of the 43 children diagnosed with cancer each day in the United States. And, having lost a child of my own, I knew the immense pain that Sara and her family were feeling as they reeled from losing their daughter.

This is a topic we need to talk about… we can do more to help.

According to the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, each year in the United States more than 15,000 children and youth are diagnosed. 

Though the 5-year-survival rate for childhood cancers has reached 80 percent, nearly 2,000 kids under age 19 die each year, making cancer the leading killer of children by disease.

In 2016 there were over 300,000 cases globally.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. You may see gold frames around profile pictures on Facebook, indicating that person has a child who has or had cancer, or loves someone who has experienced this. During this month, we honor the children who have battled the disease and remember the children who did not survive.

Childhood cancer research desperately needs your support. For many reasons, but especially that most of the resources available go to research and funding adult cancers. The causes of childhood cancer are still largely unknown. And while the rates of survival beyond the 5 year mark have risen to about 80%, the survivors will more than likely suffer from other problems throughout their adult life as a result of the cancer and the treatment.

There are many organizations you can support.

  • St. Baldrick’s – a really amazing organization that works closely with pediatric oncologists to determine the best and most effective treatments and research to fund. They have fun head-shaving events and other creative ways to raise money and have fun doing it.
  • Layla’s Legacy, raising money for brain tumor research. Based in Texas, Layla’s Legacy hosts an annual golf tournament, a Gala, and several other fun events to raise money.
  • the Children’s Cancer Research Fund – committed to funding groundbreaking research and services that enhance healing and care
  • St. Jude’s, a hospital that provides life-saving treatment at no charge to the patient and family for cancer and many other diseases.

We can all play a small part to make a big difference. And hopefully none of us will need to rely on stemcells from baby teeth.

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Alexa Bigwarfe is a freelance writer and author. Alexa co-authored the book "Lose the Cape: Realities from Busy Modern Moms and Strategies to Survive" (losethecape.com) published in Spring 2015. Her #losethecape philosophy as a mom is based on the idea that we are all doing the best that we can as moms, and should be encouraged in motherhood. She also edited and published a book for grieving mothers entitled "Sunshine After the Storm: A Survival Guide for the Grieving Mother" and has been published in several anthologies, including "The Mother of All Meltdowns," and "The HerStories Project," and "Mothering Through the Darkness." She launched her writing with the the blog No Holding Back, (http://katbiggie.com) as an outlet for her grief after the loss of one of her twin daughters to Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS). She can be followed on Facebook (http://facebook.com/NoHoldingBack1212) and Twitter (@katbiggie).

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